Imagine you are about to attend yet another holiday party. You brace yourself for what’s to come: endless small talk, the relative who pushes all of your buttons, or the inevitable sugar rush that results from stuffing down your feelings with cookies or wine.
Stoicism can help. Really!
Even if you’ve never heard of Stoicism, a school of Philosophy founded in Athens in the 3rd Century BC, you’ll want to read on. Stoics are often dismissed as boring intellectuals, but they actually have a lot to say about creating a happy life, and yes, surviving holiday parties.
Here are few simple changes in perspective and behavior that are based upon the ancient wisdom of the Stoics:
Act on what can be acted upon; control only what is yours to control.
Resolve to show up differently this holiday season by letting go of the need to control others. You become the most powerful and peaceful version of yourself by accepting people for who they are. If someone is downright hateful, you’ll throw them off balance by responding with love. It’s impossible to fight alone. Stoics call this “Acting As-If” and you can use this technique to your advantage. Talk to someone “As-If” they are reasonable and compassionate, and watch their hard edges soften.
We don’t control and cannot rely on external events to make us happy. We can only rely on ourselves and our responses. If you feel attacked by Great Aunt Mildred for moving in with your boyfriend, quitting your corporate job, or forgetting her birthday, take a breath. You don’t have to defend, fix, or respond negatively. If you want to state your case, do so without anger. If Mildred disagrees, then let her. Love her anyway. Do this by acknowledging her feelings. After that, shift the conversation. “Gee Aunt Mildred, your fruitcake tastes better than ever.”
Life is Short.
Our life on earth is brief, so don’t waste time indulging in destructive emotions. Stay focused on your blessings. Stoics recommend “Negative Visualization” – that is, imagining how a situation could be so much worse. We often compare ourselves to an “ideal life” – rather than comparing ourselves to the many people who would give anything for the life we have right now. If I quarrel with my partner, I can stay grateful that I have a partner to quarrel with…and laugh with and cry with too. I have friends who would love to meet someone special to share life with. Keep an eye on your blessings and you’ll bounce back faster.
To the Stoic, everything, yes – even the holidays, present an opportunity to be a better friend, sister, parent, grandchild, spouse – or simply a better person. Want to have a happier holiday season? Think and communicate like a Stoic!
Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All!