Temper Your Expectations: Ways to experience a better Christmas

Dec 17, 2023

For the past few months, I’ve been carrying around a very specific idea about what my Christmas would be like this year.

I was in England with my kids last Christmas, so I assume this one will be more traditional. Let’s just say, when an alternative way of spending the day was proposed, I didn’t view it with much positivity. My reaction would have made more sense if someone had suggested we spend the day doing something awful, but that wasn’t the case. The alternative was just as lovely a way of celebrating Dec. 25 as the one in my head.

The only problem was this new way wasn’t the one I’d imagined. I’d created an expectation of what my Christmas Day would be like and attached my happiness to it. There’s nothing quite like December for fostering expectations. These are strong beliefs that things will, or won’t, happen or be true. They’re a standard you hold for yourself, others and the world around you.

If you see the sun shining brightly on a summer’s day, you probably expect the air to be warm. It may seem wrong when you step outside to discover an arctic wind blowing. Expecting things to be a certain way is a normal part of life. It would be difficult to live without expectations. They help you predict the future and make decisions that are appropriate.

Believing your actions will lead to a specific end result isn’t a bad thing, as long as you aren’t attached to that outcome. That’s when problems arise. Disappointment, frustration and anger are all typical emotions that bubble to the surface when you’re attached to a belief that isn’t fulfilled. It’s easy to think you can’t be happy without the outcome you’re hoping for.

Because the holiday season is fraught with opportunities for unfulfilled expectations, I’d like to share some thoughts about managing them.

Be aware of the attachment trap

Awareness is the first step to transformation. Recognizing your expectations and any attachment that exists around them can help release you from the jaws of this particular trap. When you begin to suspect you’re going to feel gutted if something you’re anticipating doesn’t happen, pause. What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t get what you’re hoping for? Is that really so bad? Try to shift your expectation to being a possibility rather than something that’s set in stone.

Make sure your expectations are grounded in reality

It’s interesting how often humans expect things that aren’t realistic. Thinking you should be offered a beverage when you go to someone’s house only works if you both have the same idea of what hospitality looks like. If you’re expecting a coffee and don’t get one, you may feel disappointed or even annoyed. Keeping your expectations rooted in reality doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shoot for the stars. Just be aware that you may not get there on your first attempt or by following one specific path.

Practice emotional acceptance

Don’t beat yourself up if you feel disappointed. All feelings are valid. What you want to avoid is staying in a negative emotion for too long. Notice your feelings, accept them, and then let them go.

Be grateful

Focusing too much on unfulfilled expectations can keep you from appreciating your life. Be grateful for what you have rather than lamenting what you don’t have. This is also a good way to help you release any negative emotions that may be lingering.

Savour the moment

Suffering results from regretting the past or worrying about the future. If you don’t want to suffer, live in the moment. Concentrate on this point in time, not what has already happened or what might possibly happen.

Be wary of negative expectations

Expectations aren’t always positive. If you expect something to be bad, it may very well turn out that way because your brain will tirelessly look for evidence to support your belief. Be careful not to put your energy into ensuring something negative becomes your reality. Social media can trigger negative expectations, especially if you compare your situation to the posts you see. It’s helpful to remind yourself that you may well be comparing your worst moments to someone else’s best ones. Expectations can’t and shouldn’t be avoided. They can help inspire you to accomplish your goals and aspirations, but there are things to be mindful of.

The holiday season is a perfect breeding ground for the creation of expectations that aren’t based on reality or that you feel emotionally attached to. Being aware of these pitfalls may be all you need to help you enjoy a happier holiday season.

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