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Ten Tips for the Holidays



Ten Tips for the Holidays

By Daphne Lurie

For the holidays, I am applying some tips on taming perfectionism that I shared at a recent Lunch and Learn presentation at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). After all, how many of us have experienced undue stress due to concerns about setting the perfect holiday table, cooking the perfect meal, or—no kidding—making sure everyone is happy? Let these tips shine a beacon of hope for the season, for it is possible to have a wonderful holiday without perfection. In fact, everyone is more likely to have fun with a minor disaster or two thrown into the mix.

  1. Set realistic goals. Whatever your hopes are for the holidays, whether to impress your guests, make peace with your neighbors or simply relax as much as possible, make sure your goals are realistic. Do not let Martha Stewart or any other perfectionist role model get in your way. Recognize that the best way to impress company is to be yourself and not to try too hard. Buy the ham, the turkey and/or the pies. Do not panic when Uncle Fred tells yet another boring or insensitive story. Allow for a few meltdowns from the kids. It’s all part of the package that says “holidays” or “family,” and it’s all good-enough.
  2. Delegate. If you are hosting a get-together, allow your spouse or your teenager who loves to bake to make the desserts, clean up the living room or help in other ways. See if your youngest can find a sweet holiday music selection, and ask your neighbor to bring the chips and dip. A holiday can be just as good if you are not in complete control. Really.
  3. Choose your company wisely. Okay, this one is easier said than done. You may have relatives you have no choice but to see over the holidays. However, if you choose to see others, make sure they are people you can relax with. Spend time with friends or neighbors who are easygoing and easily pleased. If you do not have family in town and would rather be alone than—give yourself permission to celebrate in your own way, quietly, without feeling obliged to keep company. This is your holiday season, too. You get to spend it whichever way makes you feel best.
  4. Confront your fears. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” A turkey that is raw in the middle? A fight breaking out between warring factions in your family? Sadness if you find yourself alone? Remind yourself that if you’re not likely to remember what happened a year from now, it isn’t that important. And if the crisis—especially a family feud—is memorable a year from now, it might make an excellent holiday story.
  5. Focus on the process. Sometimes we become so focused on our goals—to buy the right Hanukkah gifts, make the perfect dessert, find the perfect Christmas tree—that we lose sight of the experience itself. Give yourself permission to slow down, notice the smiles on the faces around you, smell the food cooking, enjoy the lit candles and take it all in. Learn to experience the present fully, and you will experience success not only in terms of outcome, but also in terms of enrichment and satisfaction.
  6. Challenge all-or-nothing thinking. Perfectionists tend to think in terms of black-or-white, good-or-bad, all-or-nothing. The truth is, most of our interactions, accomplishments and memories are neither perfect nor horrible, but somewhere in-between. Therefore, let the holiday gift you give, movie you watch or card you send be “good enough.” You don’t need to be perfect; just thoughtful, at most.
  7. Avoid comparisons. Know someone who can host a dinner for 30 without blinking? Impressed by the awesome fanfare of lights your neighbors have set up at their house, while yours is still bare? Fret not, and remember that there is balance in everything. The person who can host a dinner party might be unable to take a trip without panicking, and those who decorate their home splendidly might have the time to do so because they’ve lost a job. Remember that everyone has a story. We all have strengths, vulnerabilities and challenges. Play to your strengths this holiday season, and let the rest go.
  8. Challenge the norm. Because the holidays are such a time of tradition, it’s natural to think we should stick with plans, rules and expectations that have been set for years. However, if you don’t enjoy some of these traditions—guess what? You’re allowed to break them. What if you don’t like meat at your table—you’re allowed to serve a vegetarian feast and let others adjust. After all, you’re the host. If you’re alone and the holidays make you sad, feel entitled to leave town, eat Chinese or Thai, or rent movies that have nothing to do with Santa or the Grinch. Out with the old, in with the new—that’s one of your prerogatives as an independent adult.
  9. Volunteer. There is nothing that can help lend perspective like volunteering. Consider helping out at your local food bank (TSRI’s ScrippsAssists has been very involved in this effort locally), serving a meal to the homeless or tutoring someone in English or math. This will help you to realize what really matters and will also likely boost your spirits. Whether we live on our own or with others, volunteering can help us contribute to and be a part of our own community.
  10. Consider counseling. If, despite these suggestions, you continue to put too much pressure on yourself during and after the holidays, consider counseling. The Scripps California Counseling & Psychological Services Department offers free, confidential counseling services to employees and their families.

For more information on Scripps California’s Counseling & Psychological Services Department, see For more articles in the “10 Tips” series, see

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Daphne Lurie, TSRI’s director of counseling services, advises letting go of “perfect.”  (Photo by Kevin Fung.)