Check out these expert tips
to keep this season merry & bright
Theodor Geisel was 53 years old when looked up while brushing his teeth and caught a “grinchy countenance in the mirror.” Stressed out by the holidays and life in general, he was in a bad mood, and he knew it. From his house towering high atop the hills over San Diego, he hatched an idea. A “wonderful, awful idea!” 1
So he channeled his inner grinch and wrote about it. When he was finished, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” became his latest in a string of bestselling children’s books and helped him “rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.”
Oh, Dr. Seuss … but haven’t we all? Especially when it comes to dealing with people throughout this busy season.
“Close social relationships are one of the factors that most influence your individual flourishing. And there’s no time quite like the holiday season to experience the good, the bad, and the ugly of relationships (or lack thereof) with friends, family, and coworkers,” explains Dr. Gretchen Jameson, Chief Learning Officer and Group President for Social Impact at Kacmarcik Enterprises.
When it comes to the “most wonderful time of the year” the expectations can often build up into impossible proportions around us, setting us up for failure when it comes to flourishing—especially as it relates to close social relationships—one of the six support beams necessary for supporting flourishing.
“Close social relationships are a powerful experience to navigate even when it’s NOT the holidays,” says Tiffany Andras-Myers, a Cognitive Resilience Expert with RippleWorx, Inc. “During this season, the expectations most of us experience to offer love in particular ways, to meet the needs of others often above our own, and to share time and space with family members we may not get along with, contribute extra weight to maintaining a positive experience in this pillar.”
According to flourishing experts,2 given that the quality of our social relationships impacts everything from our mental health to our work environment to how well we age, social well-being is worth a little extra attention if you intend to flourish amid the festivities of the season.
The holidays often create a unique firestorm, when our expectations boil over and threaten to overwhelm us.
“When it comes to strengthening this critical influence on your well-being, the most practical thing to do is to set specific goals for your social well-being,” Jameson explains. “Before entering yet another holiday event or as you arrive at work during these busy, often stressful, weeks, ask yourself: What do I want to get out of the social interaction I am about to have with this group or person? And then: what do I most want to give to these encounters (compliments, encouragement, support, simply your presence)?”
After all, even the best of us can have our grinchy moments.
Like Dr. Seuss who first caught a glimpse of his own “grinchy” smile, the first step is likely identifying the problem. Geisel identified with the grinch so much so that he modeled the character after his own rotten attitude concerning Christmas at the age of 53. (“For 53 years I’ve put up with it now!”)1 In his home towering on a hill high above the city of San Diego, he fashioned the Grinch, living high on the top of Mt. Crumpet.
“Be willing to notice when you start to feel like the grinch and check in with what you need and want for YOU,” Andras-Myers explains. “I find so often that when we feel like we have no choice or autonomy, when something is a MUST, we naturally resist … but if we remove the ‘must’ or ‘should’ … we often find we actually WANT to do it anyway. By giving ourselves a choice, we step out of feeling like a victim to our circumstance and into empowerment, which is freeing and energizing.”
There are other ways to avoid “grinching out” around the holidays.
Andras-Myers recommends trying to “marinate your mind.” “When you wake up in the morning, ask yourself ‘How do I want to FEEL today?’ Not, how do you want it to GO or what do you want to happen (since we’re largely not in control of this) but how do you want to FEEL? Breathe and feel those feelings in your body and mind. MARINATE in them, and then explore the flavors that arise throughout your day.”
Putting on a game face with coworkers is one thing. But when we’re dealing with our family, flourishing under pressure is often a whole different ballgame.
“We are expected to be with family,” Andras-Myers says. “Though rooted in a beautiful idea, for many people this means traveling, taking time off work, navigating which family to visit when, the possibility of disappointing anyone you don’t have time to be with, and so on. Though many of us wind up reveling in the time to be with those we love, the time and energy requirements to get things in order are big and outside of the norm of what life looks like.”
After all, as an article in the New York Times reminds us: “Your family doesn’t just know how to push your buttons, it installed them in the first place.” But that doesn’t mean that you’re destined to never make it through festive family or work events without success.
“Then there are sometimes more subtle but just as powerful expectations like ‘It’s the holidays: a time of joy and happiness and love and meaning.’ When in reality this is just a chunk of days in a chunk of months when we still have to go to work, complete all our usual tasks, and live our normal human lives,” explains Andras-Myers. “The simple expectation that we SHOULD be happy is often a hefty burden that leads us to quietly shame and blame ourselves if we’re not walking around with chipper holiday spirit radiating from our limbs.
“When we sum all of this together what we really see is that the holidays are a time when we’re likely to feel pretty out of control of our own lives: the expectations of what we should be doing and how we should be feeling simply doesn’t leave space for us to check in with how we feel and what we want and decide autonomously what this season will look like.”
Psychotherapist and best-selling author Dr. Mike Dow recommends the following tips for managing stress and keeping yourself from grinching-out during holiday gatherings:
- Stick to conversational topics that are neutral
- Focus on yourself and the things you can control
- Take the opportunity to learn; try to look at things from another person’s point of view
- Don’t take things personally
- Step away from the table and get some air if needed
- Focus on having fun; try to be at ease and enjoy yourself!
Your flourishing matters at this festive time of year! Don’t let your fear of grinching-out drive you to hide away (on Mr. Crumpet or anywhere else!) from the holiday cheer. Just be intentionally mindful of what you need to do to succeed in enjoying close social friendships amidst the holly jolly and yes … the stress of the season.
“Give yourself as much grace and permission to be human and mess things up and get frustrated as you can, and then grant that same gift to those you love,” advises Andras-Myers. “Create some space around your grinchiness, try not to react, and step back up to the plate when you feel capable and open.”
And if you ARE feeling grinchy, don’t feel like you have to hide away.
“Paying attention to your social well-being is not about being an extrovert or an introvert,” Jameson says. “It’s about being mindful in the midst of so much holiday cheer. And when you are, watch the positive impact on your overall well-being!”
1 How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss, 1957, Random House, New York, NY
2 (Weziak-Bialowolska, D., Bialowolski, P., Lee, M.T., Chen, Y., VanderWeele, T.J., and McNeely, E., 2022; Kim, E.S., Whillans, A.V., Lee, M.T., Chen, Y. and VanderWeele, T.J., 2020; Li, S., Hagan, K., Grodstein, F., and VanderWeele, T.J., 2018).