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Let's start with the word "normal." I once saw a bumper sticker that read: "Normal is someone you don't know very well." This is a good thing to keep in mind always, but especially now, when we assume that the normal people are all having happier, healthier and more harmonious holidays than we are. We imagine their mailboxes stuffed with Christmas cards and party invitations, their homes decorated in Martha Stewart splendor and their intact and idyllic families primed for five full weeks of good cheer.

I don't know these people, do you? The most effective thing you can do to reduce holiday angst is to wipe the word "normal" from your vocabulary. In my work at Omega Institute—America's largest conference and retreat center—I have met tens of thousands of people from all walks of life. I have yet to meet a normal one, if normal means consistently sane, contented and capable. And yet most of us hold ourselves up to an unattainable standard of human perfection. The 12th-century poet Rumi called this phenomenon the " Open Secret ." He said each one of us is trying to hide the same secret from each other—not some racy or evil secret, but rather the mere fact of our flawed humanness. We expend so much energy trying to conceal our ordinary bewilderment at being human, or our loneliness in the crowd, or that nagging sense that everyone else has it more together than we do, that we miss out on the chance to really connect, which is what we ultimately long for. Especially during the holidays. Even those people who may seem to be living out your idealized vision of the season have an Open Secret.

So, here's something you can do this holiday season: Open up your Open Secret. Overcome your embarrassment at being human, and tell a friend that you didn't get one party invitation. Maybe she will reveal the same thing, or she'll bring you to the one party on her list, or together you'll go to your local homeless shelter and help the kids decorate the tree. Tell your brother that you are worried about how much your mother drinks at the annual Christmas dinner; ask him to support you in dealing more honestly with her this year . Don't just say "Fine!" when a colleague asks how you are at the office party. Say, "Sometimes all this ho-ho-ho makes me feel lonely." You'll be surprised by the response. Suddenly a mere acquaintance will open up his secrets to you, and soon you'll feel more connected, not only to him, but to the real meaning of the holidays. And talking about meaning…


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