Redefining our expectations

Professor and Chair of Counseling Samuel Gladding (’67, MAEd ’71) is no Scrooge, but he is on a mission to redefine what it means to be “happy” during the holidays. Gladding, a licensed professional counselor with a specialty in family counseling, says research shows that it is the pressure to be happy that often leads to sadness and even depression during the holidays.

That’s why he’s challenging the traditional view of happy holidays by pointing out that the higher our expectations, the less likely we are to actually be happy. He shares five tips for more realistic holiday expectations and a redefinition of what it means to have a happy holiday season.

Don’t idealize the holidays.
We see the Norman Rockwell painting of all the people gathered round the table, and the turkey’s just perfect and everyone’s smiling. But in real life, that doesn’t happen nearly as often as imperfection does. It’s paradoxical that the more you try to live up to that kind of expectation, the more frustrated, disappointed and unhappy you are likely to be with yourself and others. Remember, people can’t read your mind and know what you want. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make everything just right.

Accept people for who they are.
Just as we idealize the holidays, we also have an ideal of how we think people should behave, from their table manners to the way they dress. But unless they’re doing something totally unacceptable, it’s better to enjoy people for who they are instead of who you want them to be.

Tell stories.
Talking about good times and good memories with others is inspiring and gives us a great feeling, whether the people we talk about are with us anymore or not. Certain memories may make us more melancholy, but more thankful as well.

Take unilateral action.
It’s always hard to stop family feuds once they have started, but the holidays are a perfect time to call a truce. Just as nations take unilateral action during conflicts, sometimes we as individuals have to take unilateral action as well. We can tell ourselves that no matter what someone says, we’re not going to react. We can also decide to have peace on earth or at least in our house — or with these particular people — for a few hours.

Don’t stew in your own juices.
Your holiday meal is the only thing that should be stewing this holiday season. So if you find yourself at home and depressed, think of ways to help someone else. There’s always a need for volunteers at homeless shelters this time of year or other opportunities to give back to the community. If your family is far away or you don’t have much family, remember that family is who you decide to make family and reaching out to others is one of the keys to real happiness.

Categories: Uncategorized