How To Have a great Holiday: Reflect On Best Moments Of The Past

By Ann W. Smith, LMFT

family on christmas reading together

How often do we robotically immerse ourselves in the traditions of our families around the holidays without questioning whether those “must do’s” actually create the holiday joy we are seeking for ourselves and our families? Most of us want to feel closeness with those we love, to create moments we will remember with pleasure, to provide vivid sensory experiences that remind us of special holidays in childhood or that create new, more meaningful rituals that are more satisfying than any childhood experience we may have had.

I’ve done a little survey among family, friends and colleagues asking them what is most memorable and meaningful from recent and past holiday experiences. Most of us say similar things such as getting together with family; enjoying intimate gatherings with friends; giving heartfelt gifts; being near young children; spiritual practices; music and other sensory experiences.

When I asked about the gifts they received last year, many did not remember what they got. Some regret going overboard with trying to make everything perfect and mentioned that children really don’t notice the extra touches and seem happier with basic traditions like their favorite cookie, time with their cousins or the simple rituals when the family is together.

They also shared common feelings experienced when expectations have been set too high. For example, parents noticing that their children are not as happy or appreciative as they had hoped may sigh as the holiday comes to a close, feeling empty and exhausted asking “why did we do all that?” Another concern arises when a family has spent too much or created credit card debt in their efforts to please or simply spending extra in the holiday rush without enough time to do sensible shopping.

One reason some of us repeat the same mistake of doing too much year after year may be due to the memories and fantasies of the child within us who wants this year to be the BEST EVER!

The phenomena of Euphoric Recall (remembering only the good stuff) tells us that this time it will be perfect; we will get great presents; others will love the gifts we give; the festivities will be super fun and everyone will be happy.

As portrayed comically in one of my family’s favorite holiday movies , “Christmas Vacation” with the Griswold family, it is just a few crazy days that do not quite live up to the hype and yet, we try again next year because in the end, it’s all about love.

If you would like to do better this year, these are a few tips to help you get there:

Reflect on past holiday seasons throughout your life and ask yourself and your family what worked and what was just a lot of trouble with little reward?

Delegate – Instead of dreading December’s approach and obsessing about the to-do list, delegate tasks you don’t like or drop them off the list.

Take care of yourself – Put your well-being first. Sleep well, eat healthy, energize with exercise and minimize sugar intake. By making yourself a priority, you’re also less likely to 01sabotage yourself and have regrets later.

Make regular emotional deposits. Take a good look at how you are interacting with the people you love who matter most. Is your exchange with a spouse or children always about the to-do list? Simple deposits – a smile, attentive listening,  touch, validation and affirmation will help you feel the love and connection you really crave.

Focus on what matters most. During the holidays, we have a tendency to stress more about material items/gifts instead of focusing on what means the most to us – our relationships. Take a moment to create a gratitude list of what you most appreciate and what you really need to feel fulfilled in life.

Maintain healthy boundaries. It’s important to protect yourself from common invaders such as jobs, too much activity, intrusive family or friends, telephone, computer, TV
etc. It’s ok to say no. You may need to reevaluate whether you’re trying to do too much.

Take a moment after the season and write a “note-to self” on the new calendar listing the choices that came closest to what you value and also listing what needs to be left by the wayside.

Live your truth. The holidays are a great time for families to think about a mission statement for the next year. Ask yourselves “Is this the life we want to be living?” Seek help if needed to make the changes you desire.

Ann Smith is the author of three books: Grandchildren of Alcoholics: Another Generation of Co-dependency, Overcoming Perfectionism: The Key to a Balanced Recovery and Overcoming Perfectionism: Finding the Key to Balance and Self Acceptance, second edition, which was released in March 2013. She also contributes to media including Dateline NBC, National Public Radio, Newsweek, Us Magazine, Redbook, U.S. News and World Report, Philadelphia Magazine, Washington Post, Forbes Women, Chicago Tribune, WebMD and Wall Street Journal.

Ann is the Executive Director of Breakthrough at Caron (www., a five day residential personal growth workshop designed to help adults shift destructive life patterns, improve relationships and strengthen self-esteem. For over 30 years, Ann’s focus has been on addiction, family systems and experiential therapy. To learn more about Ann visit: Become a Fan on Facebook at