Research: Perfection is a false holiday prophet

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Is incessant Christmas music driving you batty? Holiday cheer getting you down? You’re not alone.

All this festive imagery of family, friends, gift-giving, feasts — so uplifting.

Unless you’re lonely. Grieving. Seriously ill.

For some this is the hardest time of year. For those who’ve lost someone close, memories of holidays past can sting.

For others facing financial and emotional challenges, who have no family and few friends, or are just having a rough time, all this cheer can be awfully depressing.

Like looking in a window at a happy scene you wish was yours, or being surrounded at a party by laughter and social expectations, when merely keeping your head up with that stuck-on smile is like Sisyphus pushing his boulder up Mount Everest.

So how can the luckier in society help, beyond the occasional hug? In a word: Acceptance.

Sometimes it’s nice just to hear that it’s OK not to join in. The so-called holiday spirit need not be forced. A little thoughtfulness and balance, keeping in mind not everyone is cheered by the constant reminders. Every movie choice in December need not be holiday-themed, nor are carols the only music option.

Better yet, maybe the holiday spirit can become a broader, variable thing. Recognition that all this holiday mania is temporary; that real life comes before and after, and no one really expects fake smiles.

At this time and all year, the array of human emotion and expression is perfectly acceptable. If you’re one of those feeling down, it helps to remember that a smile doesn’t necessarily mean that its carrier is leading a happy, picture-perfect life.

What is picture-perfect, anyway? Life’s pictures change each day, each moment. Sometimes they look like a Norman Rockwell painting, and once in a while, more like a horror film. Most of the time life’s album depicts a series of steps between those two — a slideshow of images with wide-ranging emotions and scenes.

Wishing it to be something else is where we so often get stuck. Excepting the extreme, the best we can do is look at what’s there and accept it as-is. Change what we can, if we can, but generally be at peace with the images. Not expect them to look like anyone else’s, now or year-round, knowing that no matter how things appear, no life album is “picture-perfect.”

And that’s perfectly OK.


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who welcomes Christmas tears in her Irish coffee. Contact her at

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