Episode 215: The How and Why of A Meaningful Holiday Season
You’re listening to Live Free Creative, an intentional podcast with practical tips for living your life on purpose. I’m your host, Miranda Anderson. And I believe in creativity, adventure, curiosity, and the magic of small moments. I hope that every time you listen, you feel empowered and free to live the life that you want.
Hey, welcome back to the show. I’m your host, Miranda Anderson, and this is episode number 215: A Meaningful Holiday Season.
It’s December. How? Do you feel like I do that this year has been a blink, maybe even that the last four years have been a bit of a blink?
I am really excited to have a chance to share with you some thoughts around building meaning into our holiday season with a couple very strategic ideas.
How are you feeling as we head into the end of another year? Are you excited? Are you giddy? Are you a little overwhelmed? Are you stressed out? Frustrated? Do you feel like there’s more happening than you have the bandwidth for, or do you feel like you’ve got a nice peaceful rhythm to the upcoming weeks?
Regardless of where you find yourself on the spectrum of ease and overwhelm this holiday season, I hope that today’s ideas will give you some insight into your own values, into the meaning of the holidays for you, and how you can better live those values and bring them out from inside into the reflection of your actual life.
Before I get into the why and how, I want to share a quick segment that I call a magical adventure moment.
Magical Adventure Moment
A couple weeks ago, I was in class, sitting up in my office, my closet office, on the computer with my classmates listening to amazing lectures and these great discussions. After hours and hours of sitting, we had a break and I stood up and stretched out and decided to walk out into the backyard and just be in the outdoors, have fresh air, enter my lungs, and feel the sun on my face.
I noticed as I walk out the back door, our swing, we have a tree swing hanging in the big oak in our backyard, and it had been a little while since I sat on it. So I wandered over across the grass, grabbed onto the ropes of the swing, backed up as far as I could go, and took a little hop, and then jumped and landed on the net of the swing as the pendulum swung me forward high up into the air and then back, almost touching the fence, and then high up into the air again.
I closed my eyes as I held onto the ropes and felt those waves of rhythm. The feeling, when you’re on the swing, of your whole body moving back and catching itself, all that weight on your heels and then moving forward, all of your weight coming forward, almost spilling over off of the swing, and then you hit that point where the pendulum swings back.
I closed my eyes and just felt the rhythm of my body moving through space, and I felt the sun shining on my face and the wind blowing through my hair. And I looked up and saw the long branches of this ancient oak stretching out above me. With diagonal streams of sunlight coming through its almost bare branches, and I swung back and forth as I watched a couple leaves gently let go and dance down down to the ground.
I let myself lean back in our basket swing, so my whole body was flat out on this net disc. And my limbs were limp as I swung and started to turn in circles as the pendulum came to a stillness down spinning underneath the branch, and I felt in my body and I felt alive, and I felt grateful, and I felt present.
And in the middle of a full day in my full life with my full family and my full house and my full head, I felt at peace giving myself just a moment to swing and be. It was just a couple minutes and it felt like magic, like just a moment, a gift to myself of remembering who I am. And what I love and that I can continue on.
I want to invite you the next time you see a swing, to give yourself the gift of a couple minutes blowing in the breeze, clinging tight to the ropes or the chains, feeling the sunlight on your face and the wind whispering through your hair and remembering who you are and what you love.
Today’s episode is brought to you by Bombas, which is my absolute favorite sock brand. If you know me, you know I am a little bit obsessed with socks. I love good quality, super comfortable, cozy socks, and I love Bombas even more because they give back. For every pair of socks or underwear or t-shirts you buy, one is donated to someone in need.
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Because yes, I stuff my own stocking with things that I love, and I also got enough for all of my kids and my husband for their stockings as well. Give the good this holiday season with Bombass. Go to bombas.com/livefree and use code LIVEFREE for 20% off your first purchase for a very cozy, warm holiday.
This episode is also brought to you by Live Free Creative Retreats. You heard it. All of my retreats for 2023 are open and available for registration and application.
I have Spring creative camp for creative entrepreneurs space for you to get your deep work. That’s in March in Southern Utah.
If you need a super fun weekend with girlfriends, crafting and learning and hiking, summer camp is for you. That’s going to be in Glacier, Montana in the end of July. Registration is open now. You can register by yourself and come meet some friends at camp, or you can rent a whole tent for you and a couple girlfriends to come together and.
Novios Retreat is new for 2023. I am teaming up with my good friend and sex therapist, Kristin Hodson, to host a couple’s adventure and connection retreat. We are going to dive into the science of getting to know each other better through exploring new experiences. And a beautiful, romantic tropical setting is a perfect place to do that.
Visit livefreecreative.co/retreats to learn more about all of the events for 2023, and I hope to meet some of you there.
Main Topic: A Meaningful Holiday Season
Article Referenced: Davis, W. E., Kelley, N. J., Kim, J., Tang, D., & Hicks, J. A. (2015). Motivating the academic mind: High-level construal of academic goals enhances goal meaningfulness, motivation, and self-concordance. Motivation and Emotion, 40(2), 193–202. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-015-9522-x
Now, let’s start talking about meaning. Meaning and Holidays seemingly go hand in hand. So why do we get so stressed out around the holidays? Why do we feel so overwhelmed or behind if this is the time of year that is supposed to be filled with peace and love and charity and joy?
How do you feel heading into this season, this year? Does it feel different this year than in years past? How does your season of life compare to other years? Do you feel like you’re entering a new stage? Do you feel like you’re in the middle of a stage? Do you feel like you’re on the cusp of exiting a stage that you have been in and you’re not really sure what the future looks like?
How’s your health right now? Do you have the same amount of energy that you’ve had in years past? Do you have more? Do you have less? How’s your family? How’s your family dynamics?
Something that I think happens around the holiday season is that we inherit all of the expectations from the years past, and we simply copy and paste them onto our current year, our current season, without making adjustments for changes for growth and development, for becoming new people, learning new things, growing in new ways, maybe having some of our priorities and values shift and change.
When we copy and paste the expectations and the traditions and the goals from year over year, we often create this space that we might need to evaluate whether or not the expectations and traditions of yesteryear still fit right.
Now I have a bunch of growing kids and I think that I keep up with their sizes fairly well. But if you’ve listened to the show for any amount of time, you know that I only shop a couple times a year for clothes. So we do like a spring, summer shopping week, and we do a fall winter shopping week. And I assume that, if we’re just shopping for about six months, I’m gonna be fine.
I just bought Christmas PJs. This is outside of our normal fall winter shopping, and I order my kids and my family all matching really cute matching PJs, and they arrived and my kids put them on, and one of my kids was like, mom, these don’t fit at all. They do not fit at all. They’re super tight.
I ordered the size that my child was three months ago, and the PJs don’t fit because of growth that has happened. In the meantime, I assumed that something would fit without double checking whether or not there had been changes in the actual body that these clothes were going onto, and turns out there were.
This is really common with kids. If you have very young kids, especially, I feel like my babies wore their clothes for a week and then they would change and be out of them.
There is this sort of constant evaluation and upkeep to make sure that our clothes fit our bodies. There are so many areas of our life that could use a similar update and evaluation on a regular basis that don’t get it. And the holiday season is one of those.
A few years ago, I was asked to present at Creative Mornings here in Richmond. If you’re not familiar, Creative Mornings is this really cool breakfast club that is worldwide. It’s a free creative group where there’s a speaker each month in hundreds of cities all over the world.
You can look it up and find one near you creativemornings.com.
I was asked to give a presentation about tradition. And it was this time of year, it was the holiday season. I will link that talk that I gave in the show notes in case you want to listen to it.
The main idea that emerged for me as I was thinking about and pondering on how to share some ideas around traditions with this creative group, was for us to give ourselves the space to evaluate the why of our traditions, to give ourselves the space to ask the question: are these traditions building and contributing to the meaning that I hold for them, or have they turned into the how of getting through the holidays instead of the why?
This language of ‘the how’ and ‘the why’ is new to me, and I am obsessed with the clarity that this brings for me. I was reading a 2015 journal article for one of my classes that was about motivation and goals and meaningfulness and self concordance.
These words emerged from this article as really important, clarifying descriptors that led one to feel more meaning and alignment in their goals or not.
So let me clarify this a little bit for you and I will link the article if you want to dive deep into the actual science. The article itself, the experiment of this idea of motivation and goals, was around academic goals and it was done with college students around some of their academic goals for their psychology class.
I am extrapolating that out onto generalized population goals and ideas for the holiday season. Whether or not that’s appropriate, you will have to see. If it works for you, then it works, right?
The why leads to meaning, the how is the nuts and bolts of getting something done. What occurred to me is, I was reading this article is the amount of time that we spend thinking about the how of things, the steps, the tasks, the to-do lists, and how infrequently we back up to the why as we head into the holidays, which is a time of such expectation and task listing and busyness.
I’m curious if you have given yourself the space to consider the why behind some of your expectations and traditions.
Answering the question, ‘Why?’ can give us clarity and motivation and empower us in the face of challenges or obstacles or overwhelm or stress. When we have a clear idea of the why or the meaning behind the thing that we are proposing to do, to spend time on, or energy or effort or money, we will feel a lot more alignment with that.
And even if it’s a little bit hard or inconvenient, it will feel good to accomplish that or to engage in that activity or relationship when we are simply moving through the motions of the how and the what, sometimes the meaning gets lost.
So I want to propose a very simple exercise for you as you’re heading into this season. And you probably, if you’re like me, I already have most of my holiday shopping done, we are starting to decorate, we’re doing a little bit of traveling. My parents are coming in town.
It’s December already. I have a fairly clear outline of what I expect the next month to look like, and I still think that this exercise is going to be valuable. So I’m going to try it out and I invite you to try it with me.
I want you to take a second to write down on a piece of paper or in a notebook or in your planner, a list of all of your holiday plans.
I want you to brain dump this out. The putting up the tree and making wreaths and giving gifts and traveling and having your cinnamon bun breakfast and going to the local hotel for their tea party and hiding a pickle ornament.
And what else do you do? On and on going ice skating and doing, neighbor gifts and doorbell ditching and singing carols and writing a sleigh and meeting a reindeer. Walking through the light show and drinking 17,000 cups of peppermint hot cocoa.
What does your holiday season look like? Write it all down. Just get it all out there. And if you haven’t done this just in general, it feels so good to take things out of your head and put them on paper.
So give yourself the space to just write down all the things that you have in your head, and then this is the piece that I want you to consider.
I want you to see if for each one of those, you can write the why, see if you can connect some meaning to it. And what I’m curious about, for me, in doing this exercise is how many of the things that I have automatically put on my plate, how many of those traditions and expectations from years past, no longer have a very clear why at this season of my life.
Are there things that we continue to do over and over again with the how and the what, because we do them, but that we don’t really feel a lot of alignment or feel a lot of weight or magic or meaning from them?
Those are the things, the areas of your life, of your holiday season, and I might suggest you consider reducing or limiting. When you have a bunch of whats without the whys, those things are gonna feel pretty empty.
Here is a great quote from the journal article that I mentioned earlier: “Living in accordance with one’s true self and enacting one’s deeply held values are characteristics of a meaningful existence.”
When you look at your holiday, On paper, what does the why look like?
What are the deeply held values that are enacted through these traditions and through these expectations and through these tasks?
For me, naturally, when I write a list like this, I am writing the what and the how. I’m writing the steps. I’m writing the thing that I need to do, and if I don’t connect the dots back to the why, back to the meaning, the meaning may not be invited. It may simply get lost, and we can find ourselves running frantically from one thing to the next all month long.
And we’re finishing this whole list of things that we’ve been doing year after year, and feeling empty at the end of all of it. Feeling ‘what for?’ at the end of all of it.
Let’s reverse that. Let’s ask the what for now. Ask the why now and then eliminate the things that don’t have one. Simply allow yourself to simplify and to let go of those whats that don’t have a why.
I think for me in my life often the what and how sabotages my why.
For example, I may really want to invite peace and stillness into my holiday season. After a frantic year of moving and getting settled and getting into school and having lots of different things going on with the kids and health and pets.
We have so many pets.
I may want to invite stillness and peace into my holiday. And if I don’t crosscheck that with my list of all the many things that I want to do and the whats, I may eliminate the peace and stillness that I desire through my long list of to-dos that are not correlated with my true value for the year.
I want you to just give yourself a chance to consider this. Consider whether your list, whether your plans, whether your calendar, schedule, or your shopping list, or your big ideas and traditions for this season, whether they align and correlate well with your why, with your hope for the season, with the meaning of the season for you and your family.
I really appreciate the language that this study gave me around the why and the how of our goals or our plans.
The how can be really helpful. If we feel like we have the why and we want to do a thing, but we feel a little overwhelmed by it, or we don’t have the skills or understanding or clarity necessary, then the how–the breaking it down into little steps in order to get started–can be really helpful.
I think beginning with the why is more helpful than beginning with the how.
If we have the why, then we can break down the how. If we just have the how and there isn’t a why–there isn’t a purpose or an intention or some meaning behind the thing that we’re planning on doing–maybe that’s a good indication that we can set that thing down.
I think it’s important to point out that our whys are all going to be different.
What matters to you around the holidays is going to be different than your sister or your mom or your neighbors or even your friends. Some things may overlap of course, and just because you see someone else doing something, the what of the holidays, doesn’t mean that what might also be for you.
Or maybe it is. And this is where some personal evaluation, a little self-reflection, can be really helpful. Because what we don’t want is to be caught up living someone else’s best idea of a meaningful life. We don’t want to be caught up doing all of the whats that lead to someone else’s why, at the same time leaving our own meaning in the dust.
One thing that I find helpful for myself, because my seasons change, my family changes, my energy levels change, is to try to give myself a little bit of a guideline each year.
Sometimes it’s in the form of choosing one word or an emotion or an idea that I wanna really embrace during the holiday season.
Sometimes that looks like a high energy word, like magic or whimsy, and sometimes it’s a lower energy word, like peace or stillness.
If I see my list not only through the whys and the hows, but also through the lens of what I’m hoping for, then I’m able to make better decisions that align not only with my general why and meaning of my life, but also with what makes sense for today, what makes sense for this year.
Another practice that I’ve really enjoyed that I think goes well with this one that I’ve proposed today of writing out a big brainstorm list and then writing the why, is once you’ve done that, go through and choose three things that you want to say yes to, that have a clear meaning, a really clear purpose, behind them.
Things that, as you’re writing them down and thinking about them, make your whole body feels good. It fills with this, buzzing lovely energy. It feels like a yes. Choose three that are firm clear yeses for this season.
Then go back through the list and find three things that don’t have that feeling that you couldn’t come up with a clear why for, or that feel like drudgery, that even writing them down makes you feel a little sick to your stomach or overwhelmed. Those are nos in your body. Allow yourself the space to choose three nos to just cross off the list and be done with.
In years past, one of my nos has been new holiday pajamas because we had enough pajamas. I didn’t need anymore. I didn’t feel like it would add anything to the season. We had cute ones from the year before that still fit that we could put on.
And this year I was giddy looking up and finding holiday pajamas. And yes, I did order one size too small and I have reordered for that child. So we now all have the appropriate matching ones. It made me so happy. It felt like a whole body ‘yes!’
And it feels like connection and it feels like sitting around in our matching PJs and playing board games and sipping cocoa by the fire. And it plays well with my visions and my meaning for the holiday season this year.
And that doesn’t mean that it will every year. And traditions don’t mean that they can’t ever be skipped for a year, or that they won’t shift for a time. Allow yourself the space to invite the why into the season and to eliminate some of the shoulds, some of the things that make it to your list because they’ve simply always been there.
My hope is that through giving you these words, this language, to think about your holiday season, the how or what and the why, that you will be able to invite more meaning and more alignment and clarity into the holidays this year and every year in the future.
And outside of the holiday season. This is a practice or a vocabulary that you can use to think about other goals and ideas that you have for your life as well.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, author Victor Frankel says, he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.
I want to invite you to ponder on your why this season so that you can enjoy the holidays every step of the way.
Thank you so much for tuning in to Live Free Creative Podcast this week. As we begin the end of the year, I hope that you feel filled up with meaning and hope and happiness.
I just have to tell you how grateful I am for you listening, for you lending me some of your attention. It’s one of the most valuable things that we have and the fact that you turn on my show–whether this is your first time listening or you listen every week or somewhere in between–know that you lending me your ears, feels like a gift to me.
Being able to share my thoughts and ideas that hopefully will lift you up and help you feel a little better, feel a little more capable, a little more empowered, and a little more in line, is the best thing that I could ask for.
I really appreciate you and I want you to know in case no one has told you lately that you’re doing a really good job, that you matter, that you belong, and that you are wonderful.
If you have a chance to share this show with a friend or family member, I would encourage you to do that. You can send them a text message, pop it in an email, share it on social media. And if you’re feeling so inclined, feel free to head to iTunes and leave a written review so that other people can find Live Free Creative, and feel a little bit better as well.
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Send me an email at email@example.com and I will pop a thank you for your review in the mail.
To the rest of you, I wish you a happy December. I will chat with you again next week.
Have a good one.