The Psychology of Resolutions
James E. Barrick, Ph.D. © 2013
Ho, Ho, Ho!!! Here we go again. Everyone's gearing up for the holiday season, shopping for presents, planning traditional feasts, getting ready for office parties, and fighting the holiday traffic.
Perhaps, as a gift, you may find this article to be of some assistance this Christmas season. For along with the nippy air, the good cheer, shiny tinsel, and myriad displays of multicolored lights, there is another Yuletide tradition. It's called stress.
The Social Readjustment Rate Scale has different life events that have been assigned values related to how stressful they are. Although it is near the bottom (below a vacation and above a minor violation of the law), the Christmas season is a time of stress. While some of the tension and excitement is positive, some is also negative. Perhaps we can look at some things now to prepare ourselves to get the most happiness out of the Christmas season this year.
One of the biggest sources of negative stress during the holidays seems to revolve around the idea of "expectations.” If you think that we are, all of us, "supposed" to be joyful and merry at this time of year, then that expectation may add stress. For, unlike the rest of the year, when it's okay to occasionally be grumpy, argumentative, and upset, it's not okay at Christmas. Consequently there is a tendency to hold the grumpiness inside, to hide one's upsets and not argue.
Many times the conflicts that we are not "expected" to have in the Yuletide season are, themselves, products of unfulfilled expectations. If we examine them, become aware of them, then perhaps when they surface we can see them for what they are, and let them go. By doing so we may prevent getting stuck, and unnecessarily stressed, with some negative feelings. Yet let us be absolutely crystal clear that we are not saying we will be free of unfilled expectations and stress. Our hope is that we may find more effective ways to deal with the stress that does occur, as it occurs, by preparing ourselves in advance.
First, realize that all the symbols of Christmas are deeply etched in our earliest memories. Who can remember never having seen or experienced Christmas trees or Santa Claus?
Or who can remember not ever hearing Christmas carols on every AM/FM or Muzak station? These memories are attached to our childhood, that carefree time when Santa really came, magic did exist, and reindeer really did know how to fly. There were no concerns about who was going to pay for all this. Santa did! So we may be stimulated by the symbols of Christmas past to expect, to desire, or to wish for, the return of the happiness of our lost childhood. That expectation, desire, or wish cannot block out all the experiences that separate us from our childhood, and sets up unfulfilled expectations rather than converting the old symbols into our present experience and chance of being happy.
And even if we don't wish to return to childhood, we may tread on the expectations of others who still see us as children. Just because you own your own company, employ 2,476 other adults, have four children of your own, and will never be 35 again, you may be expected to fulfill someone else's expectations that a "growing boy (or girl)" like you, who always used to love being called by a pet name and hand-fed hard candy and cookies, needs to be reminded to wear your galoshes when you go outside.
These are potential stressors that can affect what we experience if we get stuck. And we get stuck if we try to change the situation with anything except understanding what it is that we are experiencing.
By realizing that the symbols of our past, or someone else's past, neither have to be changed, nor blindly accepted, we can choose a different path. That path is to live in, and for, the present moment. For the realization of experiencing and creating joy and pleasure and surprise and wonder in the present is far less stressful and depressing than either trying to recapture a joy from your past, or correct someone else's perceptions. Your childhood is a memory and so is your parents' perception of you. By living in the present you will not be saddened by the ghosts of Christmas’s past or find yourself hoping that others' will have changed this time, this Christmas.
Then all the prior disappointments of years past may lift as you create this Christmas as something brand new. That truly fits within the symbolism of the season, for a rebirth of wonder, a recreation of joy. Living in the present is to sense that each moment is the birth of experience, the creation of our thoughts and feelings. Give a happier, less stressful, Christmas present to yourself. Observe yourself and others as you create a season to be jolly, bothered neither by the ghosts of Christmas past nor Christmas future.
May you create a Merry Christmas for yourself, and may you experience both peace on Earth . . . and peace of mind.