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Ask Stacy: Holiday Bliss Is Easy to Miss

Happiness is something we all search for and that we each deserve in our lives. However, obstacles inevitably get in the way, whether that means negative people, current or past circumstances we can’t control, bad luck—even our own self-destructive patterns. I have developed this column to help Live Happy readers overcome these stumbling blocks.

As the new year approaches, are you feeling stressed out? Send your happiness questions to askstacy@livehappy.com.

Dear Stacy,

I am a hairdresser and I love my job, but I can’t stand listening to people who have no money talk about how they spend it all on holiday gifts. Yesterday, my client told me that she has been struggling, and yet she is buying the new $1,000 iPhone 10 for her husband. What can I do or say to these people who are making choices that are financially wrong? I hear stories like this every work day. —Bonnie

Dear Bonnie,

I have great admiration for your care and compassion for your clients and their financial well-being. Many people in the service industry do not invest as much in the people they work with.

While I understand your concern about your client buying an expensive cellular device, it is not our place to tell other people how to spend their money. In addition, while she might share her financial woes with you, you have no way to be certain how she prioritizes her spending or whether this will, in fact, make a big impact on her financial situation. In my many years as a psychotherapist, I have encountered several clients who have expensive phones, cars, vacations, etc., and yet are willing to sacrifice in other areas of their lives, including a suitable place to live or a balanced and complete meal. While it is sometimes challenging to watch, it is important we know our role in a person’s life and to understand that, ultimately, they have control over their decisions.

If you really feel compelled to have a conversation, the only thing I think would be appropriate is to let her know that you know that she’s making an expensive purchase and that you hope it does not negatively impact her finances.

Dear Stacy,

Whether at Thanksgiving, Easter or Christmas, our holiday dinner table is always filled with tense conversation. I am anticipating that the current national and political climate will make the next holidays even worse. At Easter last spring, the arguing grew so intense that I brought out an antique bell and started ringing it loudly, to little avail. I simply want some holiday peace. Would you come to our dinners, Stacy, to mediate, or do I need to hire a referee? 

Thank you in advance, and please do not use my real name because my sister reads Livehappy.com, too. Many thanks. —Frustrated Frances

seasonal strife


Dear Frances,

Sadly, what you have described at your holiday dinner table is something that happens to many of us—particularly when there is turmoil within our families, our community and our country.

I think ringing an antique bell was a brilliant idea! Particularly if it added some lightness and fun to the conversation. In times of stress, I always recommend people try to break the tension with a little humor. Being that your bell did not work the last time, I have a few other suggestions:

  • Invite additional guests to dinner to serve as buffers. Often if guests are present who are not close family members, your relatives will be on better behavior. Additionally, extra people might open up more areas of conversation so the unpleasant topics can be avoided.
  • Create ground rules before everyone arrives. Let guests know that they have political, environmental and situational differences and that topics that create conflict are not allowed at the dinner table. If these controversial topics are then brought up, remind them of the table rules and ask them to finish the conversations after the meal.
  • Have a dinner activity prepared should the conversation get heated. Go around the table and have people say what they are thankful for, or their wishes for the coming year or have everyone share a funny story about a family member who is sitting at the table.

Dear Stacy,

My name is Donna and I am 58 years old. I have made family photo holiday cards since my children were born; they are now in their 20s. This year they will not have any part of it. I start planning in October for these cards because I like us to wear themed clothing and hire a photographer.

This year they have all said they are done with my cards. I figured I would have at least until they had families of their own. I am devastated, Stacy. They each told me this in an email, and they have no idea that I started crying when I got this bad news. I have been doing these cards for more than 20 years! I don’t know if the problem can be resolved, but I saw your advice column and I thought maybe it was destiny since the refusals to do my card arrived this week. —Donna

Dear Donna,

I absolutely love that you have had a family tradition of making photo holiday cards since your children were born! I can see how much meaning these cards must have for you, and I understand why you were so upset when your children told you they were no longer interested.

Perhaps you can convince your family to do one final card just for this year? It might be a good compromise that allows you one final hurrah and also addresses the fact that they feel they are ready to move on from this activity.

If your kids are not willing to bend, or if you still feel sad about stopping the cards next year, I encourage you to create a new family holiday tradition that makes you and the rest of your family feel happy and fulfilled. Perhaps start a potluck dinner where everyone brings a favorite dish even if they all end up being desserts. Or take lots of family photos wearing silly or festive hats and glasses while at a holiday meal. Ask your family members what they would be willing to try that could be fun for both them and you. Maybe you will even come up with a few new holiday traditions that will be passed on for generations!

Read more: Ask Stacy: Expert Tips for a Happy Life

Stacy Kaiser is a Southern California-based licensed psychotherapist, author, relationship expert and media personality. She is the author of How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, and editor at large for Live Happy. As a former weekly advice columnist for USA Today with more than 100 appearances on major networks, including CNN, FOX and NBC, Stacy has built a reputation for bringing a unique mix of thoughtful and provocative insights to a wide range of topics.

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