The holiday season is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year, and that is exactly why it is generally the opposite! What happens around the holiday season is people say, “it is supposed to be special”, and because it is “special” we have higher expectations for how things are supposed to go a certain way. When they predictably fail to do so, we then get upset because things are not unfolding according to our expectations. Then, because we get upset, we make everybody else around us stressed out as they try live up to our expectations or we just make them miserable because they become the objects of our frustration and anger.
What I typically do when faced with this dynamic is I then harbor all sorts of resentment that the other person is getting upset in this way, and then I starting acting all stupid saying things like “I want to do whatever you want to do” “I want to do whatever will stop you from being upset.” I might not say these things, but my actions will speak louder than words. My goal when I act like this is not to genuinely make the other person happy, but instead to try demonstrate to the other person that they are being unreasonable. So unsurprisingly, they know I am not being sincere and then we enter into these snarky exchanges where each side is trying to give the other person what they want, but not really doing so, because the real objective is to highlight to the other person that they are being unreasonable.
Another typical way we ruin the holidays is project all sorts of expectations about how others need to be grateful for our giving or our acts of kindness, and then when they are not grateful, we get upset at them about that. This then ruins our giving and robs them of any enjoyment. Or we can generate all sorts of jealousy about how others are getting more gifts than we are or we generate resentment about how we gave to others more than they gave to us.
Another common thing that happens is we have our relatives over. We project that they can sometimes be difficult people so we do everything we can to try engineer the situation and the kids so nothing happens that could possibly upset the relatives or guests coming over. But because we are more uptight and trying to make everything perfect, we create a pressure cooker for our kids, so they feel this and inevitably start acting up. We then clamp down on them and guilt trip them saying things like “So and so didn’t come here to just to see you fight and act up.” This of course just causes us to enter into a fight with them, creating the very problem we were trying to avoid. It also makes our kids feel bad about themselves, they feel like a failure because they have ruined the holiday, and then they enter into a self-pity/anger spiral.
One of my favorite ways that I ruin the holidays is quite ironic. I have seen all of the dynamics above and gotten upset at my family for falling into them. I want everybody to just relax and have a good time. But then I am doing the same thing I am accusing them of! I am expecting them to be more chillaxed and easy going than they normally are, and then when they show even the slightest frustration about anything, I then freak out completely and think “there you go again, ruining another holiday.” I so insist that everyone be easygoing that I myself am the least easygoing of them all. I then self-righteously lecture others about how they shouldn’t expect everything to be perfect on holidays, etc.
The other extreme I often fall into in the holiday season is thinking “holidays are just not worth the hassle – everybody just fights and gets upset anyways.” Secretly, I wish that there weren’t any holidays at all so we didn’t have to deal with all of the drama. But then others around me who do want to celebrate the holidays sense that I am being all bah-humbug. They feel like I am not really into it and am bitter about the whole thing. I then ruin their fun. They then get upset at me about that, I of course deny that I am doing it, I then enter into my “whatever will avoid you getting upset martyrdom” mode, and this just makes things awful for everybody.
We deluded beings are quite funny creatures! I just can’t help but imagine the Buddhas up in the pure land having a good-hearted laugh at it all. The sign that our reunucination is qualified is our samsara makes us laugh. I imagine that the sign that our bodhcihitta is qualified is we find samsara absolutely hilarious! You just gotta laugh at how silly we sometimes act.
So this holiday season my objective is to just happily accept whatever happens. I am going to try genuinely get into it and not be bah-humbug. I am going to try not project expectations that everybody somehow miraculously stop being deluded on the holidays. I am going to try be happy for others, think about others, and give them the space to be something less than perfect. I am going to laugh at myself when I find myself getting all huffy-puffy. I am going to try spend quality time just loving my kids, because at the end of the day that is what they want more than anything else. I am going to try not to make them feel guilty if they don’t live up to my expectations. I will probably fall short of my aspirations, but that too will be a great opportunity to learn, grow and laugh!
Your turn: What are some funny ways in which you have ruined other’s holidays before? What are you going to do differently this year so that you don’t ruin other’s holidays?