By Robin Bradley
Sometimes during the first few days of December as I casually flip through my mail, I stumble upon that familiar envelope that signals the true beginning of the holiday season. With a delicately scripted return address and an appropriately themed yuletide stamp, I turn it over in my hands a few times before daring to open… the first Christmas letter of the year.
Don’t get me wrong – I do love a good Christmas letter with updates and photos and genuinely enjoy feeling a little more connected to family and friends scattered across the map. I do not love the sinking feeling in my stomach that occurs when I inevitably begin to compare my own life to these picture-perfect & accolade-wrought letters and never seem to quite measure up.
I think this is one of the many situations that can make the holiday season difficult for some. On top of family & relationship issues, loneliness and grief, we now ice this cake with a glossy and tangible reminder of the stark contrast between others’ idealized lives and our lack thereof. If you find that this experience is familiar to you, here are a couple of tips to help you avoid envy or shame and instead celebrate with and for your loved ones.
1) Remember that it took about 124 other digital shots before getting the single picture in which mom, dad, all 3 kids and the dog are smiling. Remember that prior to that still-life frame, mom was chasing the 2 year old around with Kleenex in hand and the dog was licking the syrup from breakfast off the 5 year old’s face… In that same vein, it took 2 job disappointments before Bob’s recent promotion and it took 3 SAT prep courses before Sally got into Harvard. No one writes about that stuff in the letter, but it’s always there.
2) Try to reflect upon your own life with a wide-angle lens, not just focusing on the shortcomings or stresses. Spend time searching the past year for areas you are grateful for and deliberately call to mind any victories or blessings, no matter how small they seem.
3) Let this be an opportunity to motivate you to be more open with others about the shortcomings or stresses in your life. As much as we are tempted to only share the shiny veneer version of our lives, this only adds to feelings of isolation or loneliness. Take a risk with some trusted people and be real. Let others in and then lean on them for support and encouragement in the midst of trials.
4) Try to embrace the chaos. Reflect upon favorite memories with family or friends and think of how many of these are anything but perfect. It is often the chaos and mishaps that make for great stories and family folklore. Give yourself a moment to take a breath and let go. Let go of trying to make the holidays perfect. Let go of the concern in what your family looks like from the outside. Give yourself grace.
Hope you have a wonderful holiday season enjoying time with those you love! Merry Christmas!