Don’t Deck the Halls (If You Don't Want to)


If this December you are feeling anything but merry and bright, it’s perfectly okay. There is no requirement to be “in the spirit,” or peaceful or joyful. And by all means, if you don’t feel like it, don’t deck the halls or hang the stockings with care.

There is no rulebook for the holiday season, especially after what may have been a particularly difficult year. Just because you have always done it, doesn’t mean that this year it must be done at all. Perhaps this year you are feeling the sting of loss, unwanted change, deep loneliness or an otherwise dramatically different and difficult holiday season.

It’s Okay If You’re Not Okay

I believe that by age five, everyone should know that difficult emotions are a normal part of life. Perhaps, on average, up to 50 percent of life is full of uncomfortable feelings, from annoyed to agitated, bored to burdened, weak to weary, and everything in between. While the other 50 percent is the range of happy, joyful, pleasant emotions that we enjoy feeling. Life simply is not a bowl of cherries all the time.

In fact, feelings can change by the minute based on the thoughts we’re thinking. A normal day offers us a wide range of emotions because we have a wide range of thoughts. Tracing feelings back to the thought causing them is a useful skill in general, and especially during difficult seasons of life.

Grief Is Heavy

If this holiday season you’re grieving any loss, everything likely feels heavier. Perhaps the mix of emotions you’re experiencing is not at all 50/50, but more like 90% difficult and 10% positive. Whatever mix of emotions you’re feeling is 100% perfectly okay. There is no requirement that you should feel differently than you do.

Difficult emotions are never around forever. The same is true for positive emotions. Sometimes difficult and positive emotions happen sequentially, while other times they happen all at once. For many people who are living life after a profound loss, experiencing both difficult and positive emotions at the same time is a disorienting experience. It’s the duality of grief.

Judging Yourself Has No Upside

Notice if you think you should be thinking, feeling and acting differently this holiday season. This creates unnecessary suffering on top of the pain of an already difficult season of life.

You get to think, feel and act exactly as you are. If this time of year feels heavier than usual, just let it feel heavy. Decorate or don’t. Feel the joy and the sadness that life offers you. There is no need to put on a “game face” or attempt to deliver a best-actress-in-a-dramatic-series level performance. Just be exactly, precisely, however you are. Show up as the most authentic version of yourself this holiday season.

Here are some thoughts to consider. If they feel true for you, practice them often:

  • I’m feeling extra sadness/loneliness/grief this year, and that’s okay.
  • This is the part when I feel difficult emotions during the holidays.
  • There is no requirement to feel happy all of the time.
  • Life is a mix of happy and uncomfortable emotions.
  • It’s okay if I’m not okay.

If this holiday season is difficult for you, what (if anything) are you doing differently? Do you agree that life, on average, is a 50/50 mix of positive and difficult emotions? Why or why not? Do you notice self-judgement in terms of how you’re feeling and acting this holiday season? In what ways can you take extra care of yourself this year?

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