It is only with the heart that one can see rightly,

What is essential is invisible to the eye.

– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

November is upon us, which means that holiday gatherings are around the corner.

For some, holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah mean revisiting cherished traditions. Others approach the holidays with apprehension, remembering sad or stressful events from years past.

As thoughts turn to pumpkin pie and wrapping paper, we can identify strategies to keep a positive focus throughout the holiday rush.

  • Prioritize real joy: Moments with loved ones are reason enough for joy. All too often, we find ourselves in a frenzy of holiday cooking, cleaning and decorating, leaving us fatigued and cranky.

Reflecting upon Saint-Exupery’s words, we can use our hearts to “see rightly,” finding joy in a shared walk outside, swapping of childhood anecdotes, or a good old-fashioned sing-along.

None of these joyful moments requires shopping, special outfits or advance tickets, but they can yield great satisfaction and priceless memories.

  • Embrace imperfection: Holidays, like the rest of life, include moments of disappointment, shortcoming and loss. However, if the culture at large is to be believed, we should all strive to create a “perfect” holiday experience.

The unfortunate truth is that perfect holidays don’t exist. Once we accept that holidays include surprises like burnt turkeys, sharp-tongued aunties and last minute cancellations, we free ourselves to enjoy all of what we’re actually experiencing.

Again, the essential value of traditional gatherings is indeed invisible to the eye.

  • Be here, now: Being present and aware each moment is a pathway for grounding ourselves. As we shift our focus to the present, we let go of rumination about the past or anxiety regarding the future.

This strategy is useful heading into holiday gatherings that have historically been challenging.

As we focus on our breath and on our senses, we can shift our focus to curiosity and gratitude.

What is precious and meaningful when loved ones gather? What is unnecessary and cumbersome?

I hope these concepts prove useful as November and December roll on. Used consistently, these ideas can decrease holiday stress and maximize seasonal joy.

With these strategies in place, we can learn from the past, engage in the present and courageously create our future.

Maria Malcolm, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and associate at Psychological and Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry.