Guaranteed stress relief - just in time for the holidays!

The most important thing I've ever learned about the holidays? Ironically, the single most valuable lesson that repeats and repeats itself every day.

Lowering my expectations is the royal road to contentment, peace and joy.

This has been a hard learned lesson as I seem to have been born with towering expectations.  And what better time to practice the gift of lowering my expectations than the holidays?

I've frequently said that Norman Rockwell did us all a hard turn when he created that idyllic image of the happy extended family around the holiday table. Failing to live up to that ideal, my disappointment grew.

I believed that Mr. Rockwell's painting represented an achievable state of family connection and celebration. Lowering my expectations meant letting go of what I imagined the holidays should look like and substituting this odd phrase in it's place.

"It is what it is."

Simply releasing my expectations signifies an acceptance of what is actually happening in the moment.

So, imagine the irony when I read the title of Mr. Rockwell's painting?

"Freedom from Want."  

From my perspective, Mr. Rockwell's image represented what I deeply wanted yet frequently missed due to my expectations. (He had completely other ideas in mind if you're interested. Four Freedoms )

Okay, the holiday tables were always filled with food, which is no small thing to take for granted. In some homes this was not the case. I'm grateful that my expectations were never disappointed by dinner being scarce. (On further reflection, I realize that a big part of my attachment to cooking is to avoid being disappointed with dinner!)

More frequently my disappointments revolved around the monkeys at the table. They seemed to be suffering in large and small ways, tired and distracted, filled with unmet expectations about where they were and where they should or rather would be.

Wasn't this supposed to be a celebration of love and hope? So why was everyone drinking so much?  Always worried about survival in some regard - about the economy, health care, aging parents, rebellious teens, the war in fill-in-the-blank.

Not so funny. That last sentence could probably be true for every generation.

If the circumstances of our lives don't change that much - we're born, grow up, love some people, hate some people, get some stuff, love some more people, forgive some people, lose some stuff, and then die - can accepting our circumstances make us that much happier?

In the word of a modern sage, "Duh."

As you find yourself wrapped up in the onslaught of expectations and the possible disappointment of holiday happenings, consider letting go.

Does your experience meet your expectations? Whether it does or doesn't, it is what it is.

As the next few weeks unfold, consider allowing all the parades and tantrums, spectacles and misunderstandings, to simply be what they are.

Passing images on a screen, moments of life unfolding, without resisting or clinging.

It is what it is.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! For decades I've been blaming holiday angst on Mr. Rockwell. Interesting that the Thanksgiving picture was used for marketing war bonds. Just another twist on how Madison Avenue sells "patriotism".