This holiday season stood out from the rest.
Unlike most years, I never found that wonderful Christmas charm. In years past, I was always filled with jubilation, particularly in the days leading up to Christmas Day. However, this year, on December 25th, what I was feeling was different. Perhaps it was because I'm smack-dab in the middle between childhood and having children, or maybe due to the length of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas – a whopping 27 days. Even for the Rudolph-loving, 'Elf'-watching, cookie-making Christmas phenom, it's tough to maintain that excitement for an entire month. I certainly tried to get into the full-fledged Christmas spirit. I drank my fair share of hot chocolate, watched plenty of movies, and of course jammed out to Christmas tunes. But, for whatever reason, I simply struggled to maintain the joy I was so used to experiencing at this time of year.
I chalk it up to anticipation and high expectations. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most people feel the same way, but either cannot or do not want to express it. And, the unfortunate truth is that we carry these expectations beyond the holiday season into many other aspects of our lives - be it a big trip we have been planning, or merely a dinner date with a significant other. Yet, these expectations can truly cripple how you feel when you are in the moment. But, let's be clear, no one is to blame for these anticipatory emotions. We all feel them. Often times, in our heads we imagine the perfect candle lit dinner, with a perfect balance of great conversation and great wine. But, when we get to the restaurant, they are out of their house chardonnay and you had to park just a bit further than you would have hoped, especially on a cold, blustery day. These little things can slowly begin to affect how you feel and even alter your experience as they differ from the ideal night you had envisioned.
So how do we combat this disconnect between lofty expectations and ultimate reality?
Obviously, each and every date night or holiday isn’t going to be perfect – so are we best off going in with extremely low expectations in order to give ourselves the greatest chance of reality surpassing the (low) bar we've set? In my opinion, that thought process is extremely toxic. Since you are reading this (thank you by the way), I will let you in on a little secret that I discovered a few years back that has worked wonders for me: I have no expectations.
While this holiday season I struggled (hey, I’m not perfect you know!), I typically go into the [insert high/low expectation event here] living in the moment. I try not to think about the event in the days/weeks leading up to it, and just let my emotions drive me throughout the course of the day. I allow myself to be vulnerable, allowing my emotions to run free and define my experience. Usually they manifest as laughter, joy, and excitement, other times as butterflies, frustration, and resentment. I do away with how I think I will feel, because if anything differs from that thought, I revert back to why I am not feeling that way, instead of embracing how I feel in the present.
Living in the moment has its perks. You are constantly in tune with your emotions (the good and the bad) and, in the time leading up to the event, you aren’t anxious, overly excited, or nervous – you just are...
Simply being is a great, unconfining feeling.
Like I mentioned, I am not perfect - this holiday season is a perfect example of what still needs my work and attention. But, I will continuously strive to be cognizant of how I feel in any given moment. Whether I am going to visit extended family or having friends from out of town stay with me for the weekend, throwing expectations to the breeze and being present has had its profound benefits. It can be scary at times allowing yourself to feel what you want to feel in the here and now, but being vulnerable and allowing others to see you when you are genuinely happy, sad, or somewhere inbetween is how we form deep, lasting, and real connections. With this mindset, I have done away with anxiety, anticipation, and expectation. I just allow myself to be here - in this second/minute/hour/day.
As the old cliché goes, the present is a gift. Don't waste it comparing it to past thoughts. Just live it.