The Holidays are always so stressful. Why is that? And what can be done to ease the great stresses generated by our Holiday celebrations? I’m going to tell you.

The design of every Holiday season is about the planned re-emergence of hope. The Holidays try to get you to reconsider hope and give it another chance.

Some hopes are actually purposely built in to the Holiday season. The hope of being able to coronate love above hate, crown tolerance above xenophobia, compassion above cynicism, giving above envy, altruism above greed.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Blah, blah, blah.

But there are miracles. Every year the Holidays are designed to purposely remind us that miracles do indeed happen, not often, but sometimes. To remind us that we can have hope and we can believe again, and most importantly that we ourselves can personally start over. We can hope that we can be forgiven for our mistakes. We can hope that the world will open its big arms to us at last.

Most of all, we can hope that at last we can hit the Big Reset Button and start over as if we were made new again. What makes this season so stressful is that we need that last hope about hitting the Big Reset Button so much.

We hope that the bad patterns in our own lives will smooth out, that our wrong turns will right themselves, and that past hurts will miraculously vanish. We hope so much that nurturing our gratefulness at Thanksgiving can decenter us from brooding about our many disappointments of the year. We hope so much that love at Christmas will spread abundantly for us, and without any strain. We hope so much that singing the familiar and beautiful music of the season will unite us as one people at last. We hope so much that the gifts we give and get will drown out despair. We hope so much that our good food will fill more than our bellies, that it will fill us all with good cheer. We hope so much that just being together will create in us real good will toward all.

But fear stops us from hoping.

Just like our fear of not hooking the prize brass ring of the carousel, we are afraid that the season will turn around and that the Big Reset Button will itself turn out to be an illusion, that the miracle of hope was just a big story someone made up. Our fears shut down hope. And that Big Reset Button disappears in the fog.

We witness the Paris slaughter. We are horrified. We decide we are now justified in closing our hearts to all the refugees, even though we are ourselves just a nation of refugees. We feel that we are justified in turning our gaze away from the caravans of families we see in Europe stretching beyond the horizon. We see these refugees also running in fear and horror, all of them also desperately trying to hit that same reset button. We close down and decide that they just aren’t like us.

We see horrific crimes of religious intolerance and so we feel justified in also being intolerant, justified in entering this season clenched with primal fears for our own safety. Fear makes us enter the Holidays with our hearts clenched in ice. And so we know that hope isn’t real, and the gifts we receive will not melt our icy hearts, the gifts we give leave us hollow and empty.

We fear that we will be unloved and, worse, that we will be unable to love. We fear that our lives actually have no real meaning, that there is no Big Reset Button, that our only resort, after cleaning up the detritus of false celebration, is to retreat to a cynical place, girded against disappointment, hardening our hearts to the suffering of others. We fear becoming Scrooge.

What can be done? I once heard the Dalai Lama say that our only moral obligation is to increase compassion around us. If you look closely, all major religious traditions carry the same message of love, compassion, and forgiveness. So here’s my advice. Take some time alone this Holiday season. Do two things:

  1. Make a list of all the people you care about in this world. Ask yourself, “What is one thing I can do to make each of these people feel more loved right now?” Then do all those things on your list.
  2. Think about the new path you will now take. List how that new path will be different from the path you are currently on. And now really hit that Big Reset Button.

Do this so that next year you can look back and say, “That 2015, that was the year my life changed forever because in that year I finally hit the Big Reset Button. That year I started really loving.”

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Hitting the Big Reset Button

World-renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, Dr. John Gottman has conducted 40 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples. He is the author of over 200 published academic articles and author or co-author of more than 40 books, including The New York Times bestseller The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.