"Just as a puppy can be more of a challenge than a gift, so too can the holidays." -- John Clayton
You may be anticipating the upcoming holidays with the glee of a 5-year-old or you may feel the grumpiness of a Grinch as the days of "merry and bright" get closer. Whatever you feel and whether you celebrate it or not, as Garrison Keeler says, the Christmas season is "compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together."
Now I know you'll read a zillion articles giving you great advice on how to make your holidays festive and special, filled with warmth and good cheer and sparkling moments.
But I'd like to tell you how to make it absolutely and totally miserable!
It doesn't matter if you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza or any particular holiday during this time of year. If you follow these steps carefully, I promise you will have the worst season ever. And, as an added bonus, you can make others around you miserable as well.
Let the Bah Humbug begin!
#1 Set Your Expectations in Stone.
Cling firmly to the way things should be on everything from how tasty the turkey turns out to how well-behaved your children will be during family gatherings. Know clearly how delighted each person should feel about the presents you give them, and exactly how they should express that delight.
And be very strict in your assessment of gifts others give to you, knowing exactly what you should be getting if people really cared for you. Poor Clarence Clemons once admitted, "I wanted an electric train for Christmas but I got the saxophone instead." Obviously, he wasn't loved! (Oh, wait! Clarence Clemons was the legendary sax player who played with Bruce Springsteen. That unwanted gift began a lifelong love of music and brilliant career. Hmm.)
#2 Resurrect Ghosts of Christmas Past
This is a great step because it doesn't matter if your memories were jolly or painful -- you can use either to make yourself miserable!
With happy holiday memories, simply take note of all the wonderful things that happened back then that are not happening now. Whether it's lost traditions, different weather, or folks who are no longer around to celebrate, make a detailed list of everything you're now missing and review this list on a consistent basis. Stay focused and keep your attention on what you no longer have!
Or you can use painful memories as the lens through which you see everything in the present. For example, if childhood holidays meant lots of family conflict, use that lens to see all of the similar conflicts around you. If you were ignored at family gatherings, focus on how little attention you now receive.
If you've followed my articles here, you know that most memories aren't actually factual or accurate. They are actually constructed based on our beliefs. No worries! Your false memories are still quite effective for misery-making!
#3 Compare Your Everything to Everyone Else's Everything
This easy step can give immediate results! All you need to do is compare what you have or what you're doing to what others have and what others are doing. You can use neighbors or co-workers or relatives. But actually, it even works if you compare yourself to all those blissful, idealized families in TV ads or holiday movies!
What to compare? The list is endless! Compare your family, your decorations, your gifts, your holiday outfits, your circle of friends -- everything is up for grabs! (Note: If in your comparison, you seem to be better off than others, you may have to remind yourself that "you don't deserve it.")
#4 Run Yourself Ragged
Say "yes" to every request and go "above and beyond" in every holiday detail. Remind yourself about how stressed and tired this season always makes you. (If this doesn't come naturally, post stickie notes on your mirror to remind you how tough the holidays are.) Avoid getting any extra rest or even the normal amount. Tack on as many obligatory activities as you can.
If you're still feeling relaxed, use the concept of being "perfect" to increase stress levels: perfect gifts, perfect table decorations, perfect party guests -- you get the picture.
#5 Be Cynical
We certainly need more cynics in the world -- so be one! Concentrate on the crass commercialism of the season, the pitfalls of various religions and their traditions, the hypocrisy of department store Santas. Watch movies like It's a Wonderful Life and point out how unrealistic or sappy they are. Remind yourself that the "holiday spirit" disappears in many folks as soon as the lights come down.
Are you miserable yet?
Okay, this article is obviously tongue-in-cheek. But if you find yourself down or depressed during the holidays, you very well may be doing one or more of these steps, consciously or unconsciously. If you want a different holiday experience this season, one that has more joy and satisfaction, experiment with doing the opposite of the steps above.
To paraphrase Calvin Coolidge, "Christmas (and I'd include, all holidays this time of year) is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind."
Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, where students learn Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna and Hypnosis. To learn more about NLP click here to take our free NLP E-Course.