Alicia Assad, MAPP '08, Health Counselor is a writer and mother of four. Having survived postpartum anxiety, multiple pregnancy losses, and her son's burn injury, she contemplates ways that concepts such as optimism and gratitude can lead to growth in the aftermath of adversity. She is a former Miss New Jersey and Radio City Rockette. Follow her writing on Facebook, @AliciaAssadWrites, and visit her website, Alicia Assad: Recovering Perfectionist. MOM. Happiness Aficianado. Storyteller. Alicia's articles for Positive Psychology News are here.
The scene: three days before Thanksgiving in a grocery store at 8:00am. List in hand, four kids in tow, I raced to check off my items before the holiday crowds begin. Then I had to get to parent/teacher conferences.
But I was not alone in this early morning shopping plan. The aisles were packed. The 45 minute excursion left me breathless from corralling my kids through busy aisles. Grocery shopping with kids is hard enough. Add the holiday madness to the mix, and I was one cranky mother, all before 9am.The start of my long day left me feeling like one-year-old looks in this photo.
When the kids and groceries were packed in the car, I was channel surfing the radio when the words, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year….” resonated. I dodged the thought of the holiday madness yet to come by skipping that channel fast. I was just not ready for the thought of Christmas yet, and so NOT in the mood for a melody of cheer, jingles, and reindeer.
But a little voice in the back of the car yelled, “It’s ‘Christman’ music, Mamma! That means Santa coming! Hey, put it back on! Why did you turn it off!? That’s not nice!”
As a parent, I pick my battles. I wasn’t about to stand up to a three-year-old about Christmas tunes, so I turned back to the classic tune. To survive the unwelcome holiday cheer, the Grinch in me started rewriting the lyrics, “It’s the most chaotic time of the year…..”
The day continued in the ordinary chaos that ensues with a 7, 5, 3 and one-year-old. When my phone buzzed with a text about dinner with my girlfriends I had forgotten about, I already had one foot in my pajamas.
But I rallied for my friends. At a late dinner, we shared sentiments of being overwhelmed by life with young children and the start of the holidays on top of it. Simply knowing I was not the only one feeling overwhelmed helped. Then, we were laughing at our collective madness, a well needed moment of humor inspired by an outtake from my friend’s holiday card shoot:Because this is the sort of thing that happens when we moms dress up our kids with the intention of getting a nice photo. Our kids act like wild animals, but we don’t relent. This is a parenting battle we fight until we win. Then we show the world only the photos that capture our children in an angelic moment.
I left dinner feeling better. Friendship, authenticity, and laughter gave me the energy I needed to get through hosting Thanksgiving. I actually enjoyed it.
Now with the first hurdle of the holiday season behind me, I have started setting up the Christmas decor. Last night, I started addressing a stack of holiday cards. Note the angelic children on the front.Simultaneously, I am making a list of gifts to gather. It continues to grow and the chaos and responsibility continues…..but I am no longer overwhelmed (most moments) and my spirit is light.
Today, I recognize that while I am still tired from hosting Thanksgiving, my fridge is stuffed with leftovers, which means I had a home full of people to share the holiday with. I am blessed and rewarded with a week of light cooking because this family is eating leftovers. This allows the extra time I need to get through the stack of cards I will send to people near and far who have been a part of my life. The act of acknowledging friends and family is an exercise of gratitude.
The way I see it, a few hours of laughter with my girlfriends allowed a more positive holiday perspective to unfurl. Other people do matter, and it is important to remember perhaps this time of year more than any other. Regardless of religion or what you celebrate, there is time to be spent with family. There are blessings to count.
My Holiday Survival List
Since I am (somewhat gracefully) surviving this holiday season with the support of the concepts I understand from positive psychology, I am compelled to spread my cheer by sharing my holiday survival list:
- Other People Matter: Case in point, an intervention in form of a dinner with authentic friends. Now and throughout the year, kindle those relationships. Life is complicated, and we need to be surrounded so we can love and be loved.
- Laughter: Yup, sometimes some good ole make-your-stomach-hurt laughter can shift your entire perspective. But you will probably need some good authentic friends for this (refer to #1).
- Gratitude: Count those blessings. Crowded stores mean I have the means to be a consumer. The holiday cards mean I have amazing people in my life to acknowledge. Cranky overstimulated children mean I have a home filled with life and laughter. When I find my perspective spiraling towards Grinch, I reach for a blessing and it carries me to a more positive place.
- Self compassion: Take breaks, put your feet up, go to that dinner with friends. Whatever it is, find a way to re-charge and take care of yourself because if you don’t show yourself love and respect, you cannot be productive in your daily tasks, whether or not they involve kids.
- Joy: It’s in the small moments. For me, joy was in that moment my three year old squealed with delight about the start of the holiday season. I hang the decorations. I move the Elves around my home. I read the holiday stories. The small moments of delight in my children bring me shared joy in a busy holiday season. Look for positive emotions that resonate from person to person.
Yes there are crowds, more on the to-do list, and the flu season is upon us. But there are also more connections, sparkle, and cheer.
The holiday season will unfold the way you choose to see it, so remember, there is a little bit of Grinch and Cindy Lou Who in all of us.
So good luck surviving the season wherever you are and whatever it is you celebrate. May you savor the other people in your world, have an abundance of laughter, countless reasons for gratitude, hold onto self compassion, and always find your joy.
References: In case you want to buy yourself or others books to support the items on my holiday survival list.
Brown, B. (2007). I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power. Gotham.
Emmons, R. (2013). Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Emmons, R. (2007) Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflan Company.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Hudson Street Press. Fredrickson writes about positivity resonance: heightened experience of positive emotions because of sharing them with someone else.
Lyle, L. (2014). Laugh Your Way to Happiness: The Science of Laughter for Total Well-Being. Watkins Publishing.
Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. New York: HarperCollins.
Neff, K. D. (2013). Self-Compassion Step by Step: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Sounds True.
Peterson, C. (2013). Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. Peterson said that positive psychology could be summarized in three words: “Other people matter.” This is a book of short articles, many of which show this definition in practice.