Recently many of my friends have been talking about their holiday to-do lists. For many, the to-do list is essential—it is what guides their days and helps them to remain on task. But to-do lists can also interfere with one’s happiness if the list becomes the guiding force in your life. To-do lists are composed of tasks that we must complete—obligations and chores. We don’t write a to-do list for enjoyable activities, such as “watch television,”  “eat dessert” or “get a massage.” So I find it interesting that we often create to-do lists at holiday times—a time that is supposed to be about joy. 

When I think of the real meaning of the holidays (regardless of the religion) family plays a central role. We want to spend time with our family members, eating and drinking, opening presents that someone was thoughtful enough to give us, and enjoying one another. So why is that never on my holiday to-do list?

Instead, the holidays, often become about obligations. Rather than enjoying the baking or spending your moments of shopping thinking about how much you care about the recipient of the present, the holidays become about mad dashes to the store to fight with someone over that popular toy. The baking becomes an assembly line where you toil at midnight over an army of gingerbread men to finish off the preparations for the last treats; and the stockings are hung by the chimney with irritation that the double-sided tape won’t keep the stupid stockings on the mantle no matter what the TV commercial said. 

Life becomes dominated by the to-do list—its length, what you have crossed off today, whether you will be able to achieve the ultimate goal of crossing everything off of the list, and checking the list to see whether you forgot anything.  Rather than enjoying the true spirit of the season, you spend your time completing obligations that are related to it. So this holiday season, I’m throwing out my to-do list and making a new one. So far my list includes the following: Tell my husband that I love him, laugh with my daughter, buy my family presents that show them that I love them year round, and be grateful for every day with them. 

Copyright Amy Przeworski

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About the Author

Amy Przeworski, Ph.D.

Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University and specializes in anxiety disorders in children, adolescents, and adults.

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