In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, Ebenezer Scrooge proclaims, "I will live in the Past, Present and the Future"; wise words from a grouchy old miser who, overnight, transformed into a compassionate philanthropist. As Ebenezer discovered, the ghosts of holidays past can affect our holiday present and color future holidays. For most of us, holidays past loom large in our memories, sending some of us into holiday elation and others into holiday misery. So it’s wise to remember that we have a choice – we can view holidays past either positively or negatively.
Needs versus Wants
Our needs and wants in the present (pun intended) are always important and especially so during the holidays. Family and friends come together, special meals are prepared and gifts are thoughtfully purchased or made. By reflecting on our thoughts about what we want versus what we need, we learn a lot about what’s important in our lives.
What We Want
At this time of year, many of our wants are things - things that make our lives easier or make us feel better temporarily, but aren’t necessary. We can see how this works by examining what and why we buy things and for those of us with children, in the way we’ve raised them. If we make impulse buys or purchase things we don’t really need then we are likely present hedonists – living in the moment. We feel better until we get the credit card statement. We may have unintentionally spoiled our children by giving them whatever they ask for – or whined about – and more. We put a band aid on the situation and settle for a temporary fix that creates behaviors that are hard to break. We inadvertently teach our children to believe they won’t be happy unless they get their things.
What We Need
Some of the things we need are vitally important for survival – like food, a roof over our heads, protection from the elements, running water and electricity. But each of us also has emotional needs - love, appreciation and respect. If we don’t feel or can’t recall being loved by someone, like Ebenezer, we intrinsically know that we’ve missed out on something huge in our lives. If we don’t feel appreciated or respected, we can fall into that deep chasm of despair we call present fatalism. The closer we get to this black hole, the stronger its pull and the more likely we’ll get sucked in. Don’t go there!
What We Can Do
We can start setting ourselves up for a joyous holiday right now. Recall good memories of holidays past – the warm, fuzzy feelings for people we love, the good food and drink we’ve imbibed, the bits of color, the candles, the bright lights. These positive memories and feelings are in us all and this is the time to bring them forth. If there were bad holidays, realize they can’t be changed – they are history and we don’t need them to bring us down. Focus on the good.
If you have children, talk to them about what’s really important in life – love, appreciation and respect. If you don’t normally read to your children, surprise them by reading to them aloud. Tell those you are close to how much you love them and what they mean to you. Inform co-workers you value them. Mention to those who serve in our communities like the mail person, the garbage workers, police officers, the person behind the counter, the wait help, you are grateful for their service. Liberally give the gift of compliments – to as many people as you can. You may be surprised at the responses you receive. Be generous with hugs, kisses and phone calls to those away.
Holidays of the future are ours for the making. We can make this fast approaching holiday, which will soon be a holiday past, a good one by enjoying ourselves and each other as much as possible. It’s our choice. Let’s vow that no matter our situation or circumstance, we will count our blessings, be grateful for what we have and not focus on what we don’t. We can make this holiday season a golden memory - one we will cherish well into our future.
Phil Zimbardo and Rose & Rick Sword
For more information on the effects of PTSD, see The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing,) and for strategies to reduce stress and improve communication, visit www.timecure.com and www.lifehut.com.