Holidays mark time and create traditions. We compare this year to last year at this time and perhaps marvel at the growth of our children, the good fortune of our careers, the personal accomplishments we made. During this time of year, there can also be poignant markers: a family member or friend who is no longer with us, a year you want to put behind you and look ahead to better times to come, personal struggles that endure.
As you rush around this week to prepare for the holidays, you may be feeling overwhelmed by all the obligations, real and imagined. We all know that the holidays are stressful, and if you’re like me, you are looking forward to relaxing with loved ones and appreciating all the many blessings you have—which can so quickly get drowned out by the noise of expectation and finite resources (time, money, attention). The holidays can put an undue burden on us to have fun, to please our children and extended family, and to overconsume when perhaps we just want to maintain equilibrium.
Here are a few things you can do to keep your holidays positive and balanced:
Remember that experiences bring us more happiness than material possessions. Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades, points out that adaptation erodes happiness: “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.” It can be disheartening when after a few minutes of excitement, our children lose interest in the toys and gadgets we hoped would provide them with sustained joy.
Experiences, on the other hand, become part of our identities and memories, and they connect us to other people. Social relationships are at the heart of happiness. When we prioritize connection, says Christine Carter, a senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, we feel a part of the larger community and world: “Let me not mince words here: This sense that we are connected and part of a larger whole is the single strongest predictor of happiness that we have.”
Time with our children is a precious resource. Think about doing an escape room or bowling date with your family, purchasing a museum membership or local or national park passes as a family gift, getting tickets to a sports game or to the theater, providing some “coupons” for one-on-one special lunch or a movie together, buying board games for family board game evenings, offering music or dance lessons, buying camping gear for a trip into the wilderness, or making a trip to the bookstore to get new books.
Experiences also introduce us to new worlds and cultures. You don’t have to leave Los Angeles to experience other cultures, just venture out of your neighborhood and explore a new part of this incredible global city. We are a community that values raising well-rounded children who will impact the world, and you can provide wonderful opportunities for learning about the world when you interact with the local community in our beloved city. Exploring the city is something my family loves to do on weekends and breaks, so if you need (or have) suggestions for where to go and what to do, I would love to compare notes!
Schedule as much as you can, including downtime. If you tell your brain when you will do something, it reduces stress. If you can’t fit everything in your calendar, decide what is important to you and your family. If feeling connected as a family is your priority, use that guidepost to determine whether to say yes to something. Realize and remind others that no one is fun to spend time with when they are exhausted, whether five-years-old or fifty-years-old.
Trade in expectations for appreciation. Christine Carter points out that we tend to feel disappointed when we don’t get what we want more than we feel grateful when we do. The holiday season can exacerbate this dynamic, leading to more stress. When we want something different from what we have, we will feel disappointed. Carter encourages us to “find something to love in the moment you are in right now.”
To increase your ratio of gratitude to disappointment, Carter recommends exposing yourself to others’ sorrow or distress and find ways to help. Volunteer together. Do things that bring hope, optimism, and compassion to the lives of those you know and those you don’t know. Designate some money and decide as a family what your priorities are for donating it—and choosing your child’s school as the place to give a tax-deductible pledge or contribution before the end of 2018 is a fantastic choice, in my very unapologetically biased opinion!
Find a purpose… and don’t do it alone! When we think of “finding our purpose” it is easy to fall into the trap of associating “purpose” with some special gift or talent. But, as our friends at the Greater Good Science Center tell us, purpose works best when it grows from a connection with others. As the author of this article about purpose points out, “…a sense of purpose appears to have evolved in humans so that we can accomplish big things together—which may be why it’s associated with better physical and mental health. Purpose is adaptive, in an evolutionary sense. It helps both individuals and the species to survive.”
Turning Point School is an excellent example of how a community—all of us, from educators to parents, to staff, and Trustees— work together to find and achieve a higher purpose. Last year, our community worked inclusively to identify the Strategic Priorities that will define our purpose and direction over the next few years. I am thrilled to announce that these Priorities have now been published, along with rationales and desired outcomes, for our internal and external audiences to see. A printed version is on its way to the homes of families and Trustees, and you can also access it here.
Before we go our separate ways for the holiday, I want to thank you all—families, faculty, staff—for the community you help to build every day here at Turning Point. I learn from all of you, with your wide range of skills, interests, and passions, and the stories you have so graciously shared with me. It is an honor to serve this community, and I feel grateful to spend my days at a place where curiosity and exploration guide us to learn about each other as well as about the world in which we live.
Strong communities thrive even in the face of conflicts and challenges because we can find much to appreciate in one another, and I am heartened to know that our children are learning this valuable lesson in fellowship with one another at our school. I wish you a rejuvenating, positive, joyful holiday and New Year.
Dr. Laura Konigsberg
Head of School