By Brian Patterson
Kids in footie pajamas; frozen windshields and slippery roads; anxiety about how visitors would judge our house and gifts. These are some of my memories of Christmases past when we lived in the Midwest and had a different perspective on life.
Last night, my wife and I hosted the family of our grown children (no footie pajamas) and my in-laws. The house was decorated nicely- with our eclectic style- and there was very little hint of the anxiety which used to pervade these events. We had chosen to go out to eat our evening meal and then go to our house for gifts, desserts and coffee. We have found it mentally healthy to change some traditions so we can enjoy the holidays and people more and worry less about being judged.
I used to feel that I should hand out Olympic-style score cards to everyone as they entered so we could average the scores and see how well we had done. For days, my wife would be frantically preparing and resenting me (or so it felt) for not being involved enough! During the event she was so concerned that everyone else was happy she could not allow herself that same privilege. Afterwards, she would vow to never ‘celebrate’ Christmas again.
The difference between those Christmases past and the more recent ones has been a growing understanding of how our brains work to meet our own needs and how to meet those basic psychological needs in different ways. We know now that we are not built like anyone else and we can meet our own needs in our own ways without duplicating the efforts of others. This has made us less judgmental and coercive and has improved all of our relationships.
Our mental health and happiness is our own responsibility. Knowing this has helped us to eliminate misplaced dependencies and unrealistic expectations. Others are not here to serve and satisfy us but to accompany us on this beautiful journey of life.
This website, www.mentalhealthandhappiness.com, has more insights into how others can discover the same peace at Christmas.