How to Enjoy the Holidays Like a Child

Your to-do list quadruples in size during the holidays with shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking and baking. Holiday parties, concerts and charity events fill the pages of your weekly planner. Even the most skilled multi-tasker will be exhausted and stressed trying to create, or approximate, the perfect holiday experience.

Perhaps you experience some joy at being able to announce Christmas shopping is finally completed, or feel proud of the 10 dozen decorated cookies cooling on your kitchen counter, but what happen to the magic? The sense of anticipation and awe you felt as a child during the holidays? You don’t have to abdicate your role as a responsible adult to once again experience the holiday joy.

Define what you value

“Holidays are a time of finding joy within the context of relationships,” says Dr. Amit Sood, Mayo Clinic Professor and author of, The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness. Prioritizing the people you care about over the material trappings of the holidays will push that taskmaster of a to-do list into its proper position in your life.

When you feel overwhelmed by the demands made on you during the holiday season, Dr. Sood recommends hitting the pause button. Find a quiet place, even if it’s the bathroom, to gather your thoughts and focus on what each person in your life means to you. If a friend or relative has you annoyed, ask yourself, “Will this matter five years from now?” Gratitude and acceptance are keys to living a life full of joy. You don’t need to improve people, says Sood; accept and be grateful for the people in your life.

View tradition as a living and evolving thing

It is not necessary to recreate Christmases past to capture the joy you felt as a child. It may not be practical or desirable to replicate the holidays you experienced growing up. What you do want, to recapture the feeling, is to live the spirit of the season. Pare down your schedule so you can focus on what is important. Seek to fill the holidays with experiences rather than things. How many gifts are remembered a year later? Be sure to include some downtime for yourself to renew and refresh. This may mean abandoning old traditions, but you will be forming new ones that will be carried forward.  

Accept you cannot control everything, and that’s okay

Foul weather, unexpected guests, plumbing problems and a myriad of other incidents can scuttle your carefully planned schedule. Recognize and accept what is beyond your control — banging your head in frustration is not helpful — and view the change in course as an opportunity for a different experience. National Lampoon’s movie, “Christmas Vacation,” is a reminder (albeit a goofy one) that the spirit of the season will survive even when plans go astray.

 Our distracted minds

“Most of us, I would argue, spend most of our day following our attention around,” says Carla Naumburg, clinical social worker, mother and author of Parenting in the Present Moment. “It gets dragged from place to place by a smart phone that’s glowing or buzzing, or by a kid that’s screaming, or by a dinner that’s burning, or by an urgent email that’s coming in.” We don’t focus on the good right in front of us. During the holidays, the present moment is filled with music, sparkling lights, wonderful aromas and tastes, and loving relationships, but our distracted minds miss them. We need to practice mindfulness to bring ourselves back to the present.

Make an intentional choice

Naumburg defines mindfulness as, “Choosing to pay attention to the present moment with kindness and curiosity so that we can then choose our next behavior.” The element of choice is central to this. You have the power to pause and redirect your mind back to the present. It’s an intentional choice and it takes practice. Your brain will fight you on this, but when you find your attention drifting, call it back with saying, “This is what I am focusing on this right now.”

“Our thoughts are the essence of who we are,” says Naumburg. It isn’t difficult to refocus your thoughts; remembering to focus is the hard part. Simplify your life and it will be easier to slow down and savor the little moments that essentially add up to be your life. This is the perspective of a child who lives in the moment. Although you are grown, everything you had as a child, including the awe and wonder, is still there. You just need to give it your attention.