Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Happier Holiday Rituals

 Change What Doesn’t Work to Make Rituals Much Richer

Lauren Zander,
 Life Coach

They’re back. The holidays
are here again, appearing
as they always do… year
after year… after year.
Do you find yourself dreading
the busyness of it all, the times spent in close quarters with family, the shopping, the
non-stop offerings of food and drink? In truth many of us lose sight of this season’s immense pleasure potential, or, for that matter, the pleasure of any of the many rituals we take part in, whether family, cultural or national celebrations. And yes, you read that right— rituals can be extremely pleasurable.
Unfortunately many people bury the true meaning and value of rituals as we complain and rush through our to-do lists. How to rediscover the joys? I talked with life coach and frequent Daily Health News contributor Lauren Zander of The Handel Group.


According to Lauren, no matter how big or small, our rituals give more meaning to our lives. By celebrating and honoring these occasions, they are made sacred and they help ground us in otherwise uncertain times by showing up when they are supposed to. They are also replete with opportunities to draw closer and share experiences that are intimate and memorable with loved ones. The concept of drawing closer is especially significant, says Lauren, since even in relationships that are problematic, deep down inside, everyone really wants to love and be loved—they just don’t know how to connect.  Rituals make that connection easier, and can even be a whole lot of fun.
Why, then, do so many people dismiss or even disparage the holidays and other important rituals? One reason is that we are born into most of them, says Lauren. They are part of our lives simply because they are there. We often fail to think about what they mean to us and how we feel about them. That can lead to the sense that we are victimized by the ritual—we “have to” go to our parents’ home or to the annual Hanukah party or take the children to see Santa. We “must” have gifts for everyone, spend time with boring Uncle Harry and bring the mint-Happier Holiday flavored fudge that was grandmother’s recipe. Whatever might be on our “have to do” lists, we all carry them around with the unspoken implication being… whether you want to or not. But feeling victimized by rituals causes them to lose their magic and their majesty, says Lauren, and that misses the whole point.


If any rituals have become that way to you, the time to start changing them is now. The goal is to have rituals enrich your life, not rob from it.  The first step to change that is the most important—realize that you are not stuck. You have the power to alter what is, as well as to create your own rituals as you see fit. You have this right whether it concerns major holidays or personal rituals that serve a purpose for you alone.
Let’s start with the holidays, which for many is the time we feel powerless to change for the simple reason that the holidays have always been the way they are. Nonsense, says Lauren. “Holidays are a wonderful opportunity to investigate how you really feel about the family, what your problems are with family members and the celebration itself,” she says. If how they have always been isn’t working for you (and perhaps isn’t for the other celebrants as well), it’s okay to step in and make things different. Word of caution: Any ritual that involves other people demands negotiation so before you bring it up, think through carefully what you’d like to happen as a result.
These conversations may be difficult and emotional, but by being open you and your family have the chance to make changes that resolve the issue for all of you. Example: One man with a very successful brother was uncomfortable every Christmas because his brother always gave him expensive gifts and he couldn’t afford to reciprocate. Either he’d spend far more than he could afford or give something that embarrassed him by its modesty. His solution was to tell his brother he was uncomfortable admitting this, but he always felt diminished by their gift exchange. Much to his surprise, his brother responded that it was his great joy to give extravagant presents but had no thought or concern about what he received back. In fact, one of his most treasured gifts from his brother had been a hand-bound journal he had made for him some years before—it was the personal nature that made gifts special to him and knowing this gave new meaning to the exchange. Another example: Each year an extended family came together at the parents’ home for three housebound tension-filled days. Two of the siblings came up with a plan for an annual ice-skating party with a special dinner at a restaurant afterward, plus a neighborhood treasure hunt the following day that each family traded off arranging each year. Lauren adds that she enriched her own extended family’s Thanksgiving by asking each member to share a story about what they are most thankful for in their life that year and why. “It makes the holiday deep and memorable for all of us,” she says.
In addition to increasing the pleasure quotient, the point of revising rituals to better suit celebrants or add value to them is also to bring people closer together. Lauren recommends evaluating all rituals and creating new ones with this in mind.


Many people forget rituals are not just for special occasions. We all have rituals in our everyday lives, be it reading to children before bedtime, sharing a glass of wine with your spouse after dinner or going to the high school football games with friends. In fact, these “everyday” rituals can serve another useful purpose, she says. They can help resolve family problems. Example: Two young sisters complained they did not have enough time with their mother and so the family solution was to have the girls go away somewhere special for a mini-vacation each year with just their mom, no one else allowed.  The young children in another family said they had no personal time with their busy father. The solution: The family started a Sunday morning ritual of dad preparing breakfast and sharing it with the kids while mom sleeps in.


Don’t wait until next year to start revising your rituals if you are so inclined. Lauren advises the following to lead you to better, happier ones:
  • Evaluate the ones you don’t love and why.
  • Come up with ideas about how you can change these rituals, if not this year than next.
  • Talk to your family, if they are involved, to figure out what works, what doesn’t, how to spice things up and have more fun in a way that works for all of you.
  • Try new ideas on for size—and remember, if something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to throw it out and try something new that you will all look forward to next year and perhaps even for years to come.

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