Photo: Mark Hooper
List Your Holiday Traditions
Take a few minutes to write down every holiday custom you feel you should follow. Start with family patterns, but don't end there. Offices and friendships have their own traditions.
Choose to Enthuse
Looking over your list, visualize each activity. Notice how your body reacts. Do you tense or relax, feel like smiling, snarling or weeping? What creates a genuine sense of enthusiasm? True enthusiasm makes us feel divine, whether we take that as a religious reality or simply a wonderful emotion. The holy days are the best times to focus on real enthusiasm, the inner source that lightens and sanctifies our lives all year.
Apply The Three Bs
Once you've figured out which traditions you love, eliminate the ones you don't. I suggest the Three Bs: Bag it, barter it or better it. Bagging is simple: If you don't love to do it, and you don't have to do it, don't do it. To barter a task, find someone who loves doing what you hate, and who dislikes something you like; then swap services. Traditions that can't be bagged or bartered can usually be bettered. If you're tired of shopping but really want to choose gifts yourself, use catalogs or the Internet.
Manage That Uneasy Feeling
As you read over the preceding paragraphs, you may have felt resistance. This is what I call social dissonance, the conditioned reaction to breaking a group rule. It's the primary force that keeps us obeying the demands of others. Tolerating this dissonance without reacting is the key to maintaining control of your life during the holidays and beyond.
Be Yourself, Don't Explain Yourself
You don't have to prove that your preferences are right, theirs wrong. Differences are inevitable and acceptable—attempting to persuade someone to value the same things you do just perpetuates conflict. Simply hold your ground. Kindly tell everyone that you're observing a set of customs that work for you.
Wait 'Em Out
Every group has its own form of punishment. It may be that you are one of the unlucky minority of humans whose social groups are so rigid they won't tolerate your decisions, but this can be its own gift. You'll be free to create and follow traditions that take you to the places where you'll find your tribe. Far more likely, though, using the season to practice living authentically will transform your holidays without causing too much ruckus in your world.
Yes, you may ruffle more than turkey feathers. Your loved ones may fuss and fume, but guess what? They'll get over it. They'll probably even like it, once they see the payoff: the joyful version of you.
More Martha Beck Advice
From the November 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!