If holidays meet you with an intensity that challenges your resolve, try living them by your own design.

What feelings are invoked when you hear the words holiday celebration?

I asked this question in a gathering of mama friends recently and got a variety of answers. At first, the responses included words you’d expect like joyful, happy, fun, you know, the warm and fuzzy kind of celebratory words. Then, after all the anticipated words came out, the rest of the truth flushed out with words like stress, anxiety, overwhelm, and the grief driven variety ones. That’s when the real conversation began.

It wasn’t a gratuitous conversation, but one that was real and connecting. One that confirmed we’re not alone in our struggles to be ‘ideal’. There was a vulnerability and acknowledgement that was comforting to hear. As the truth came out it became fertile ground for growth to begin, because there was no longer a denial that it’s wasn’t there. Now we’re not talking huge problems here (well mostly) but we’re talking about that low level creep of angst that can build in our lives if we ignore our realities.

I looked up the very definition of holiday which means to take a break, leave, trip, outing, time off, personal day, etc… It essentially speaks of a replenishing pause.

The word celebration translates into a festivity, party, merriment, and gala. Essentially joyful things.

I looked, but nowhere does it suggest stress, anxiety, frustration or panic.

Here’s the truth of the matter. For many people (myself included) the holidays, like the rest of life, are filled with paradoxes. We love them and we loath them – and that’s life. So let’s talk about ALL of it. With that, my question then became, how do we embrace holidays by their very definition? How do we keep the joy and air the angst enough to let it go?

Catching up to modern living.

Again, holidays were always about celebration. Celebration that was meant to motivate within a group in some way towards an idea or an event around a central theme within the culture. This is good community building connections that we crave. So why did this become something quite opposite too?

Here’s what I found: The consumer culture that we live in can create HUGE stresses and feelings of overwhelm in our lives. Masterful marketers are very good at conditioning us to look outside of ourselves and lives for answers to happiness, wants, potential needs, and desires. Begging you to compare your life to your neighbors, friends, and colleagues. Always promising you the answers through buying your way to happiness with the latest and greatest thing.

Now combine this with an alarming new discovery about our human conditioning. Scientists have revealed that the average of our attention span has been conditioned down to less than a goldfish. Yes, you read it, we moved from 12 seconds back in the year 2000 down to 8 seconds. This is one second less than a goldfish clocking in at 9 seconds. BOOM! This has all the potential for a disaster in our often too frenzied lives, because it can create a lot of busy actions without intention behind them. Actions without intentions lead to a drain on your life.

What’s the solution then? 2 words: Mindful living. Meaning that we make intentional decisions from a place that’s grounded in value. Why?

In general, all mindful practice is centered in alertness. With that, you invoke priority based organizational power into your life.

How do you do this? You start by looking inward and working with questions like (and these are worth writing down):

What makes you feel alive?

When do you feel most yourself?

What really matters to me is?

I love to?

Who’s important to you and why?

My core essential values in life are?

From these answers you can start to create a road-map to a life that’s joyful and full.

This exercise helps you get clear on what’s in the heart of your life. You become aware of choices in a way that’s empowering. You carry these ideas with you in your everyday life. From these awareness’s life becomes the gift it’s meant to be.

Now obviously, this shouldn’t be kept until the holidays. It’s something to practice daily. That way it’s in place when you are faced with times of intensity such as the holidays. You give yourself a place to land. With that foundation you have a starting point to create what you truly desire – and this is by design. Yours alone.