Although “Happy holidays!” is usually intended as a kind, warm wish to another human being, it doesn’t always feel that way to receive or give. For someone in emotional pain, “Happy holidays!” can:
- Seem like a command they’ve failed to fulfill: “Be happy, it’s the holidays!”
- Be experienced as emotionally negating (similar to someone saying to you, “Cheer up!” or “Smile!” while you’re on the brink of tears).
- Remind the individual that they don’t fit in with their peers’ (or the world’s) holiday cheer.
- Cause the person to fake cheer to cover their suffering, which tends to deplete precious energy.
- Be a painful reminder of what the person does not feel and wishes they did.
If any of the above describes your experience, hear this: You are not alone.
Your energy is probably limited and stretched right now, and it’s going to be important that you protect it where possible. Granted, you may not be able to avoid the holidays amplifying your emotional pain. Still, there’s a less-taxing way to get through the barrage of “Happy holidays!” you’re expected to provide. And you can still be as graceful and gracious as you’d like.
Alternate holiday greetings that can help you take care of yourself
Align your words with your intentions. In the end, it’ll probably take a lot less effort than trying to maintain a faked appearance of holiday cheer. Here are five examples of how.
1. “Season’s greetings.”
If you simply want to say hello during the season, “Season’s greetings” is pretty neutral and still thoughtful.
2. “I wish you [insert something specific here, such as ‘peace’ or ‘health’].”
Shift to saying, “I wish you [insert specific kind wish].” Completing this sentence with even “happy holidays” can feel better than saying only “Happy holidays!” Why? It’s specific, allows honesty, and focuses on your desire for the listener without reinforcing expectations: “I wish this for you.”
If you don’t believe me, take a few seconds and try saying these in your mind.
- “I wish you [insert something specific]”
- “Happy holidays!”
Did your body have any responses?
No matter how sad or unwell you feel during the season, you may still want to wish others happiness, joy, love, whatever. This can be a sincere way to do it.
3. “Meaningful holidays to you.”
Personally, I like saying, “Meaningful holidays to you.” (No, that’s not because of my book or this blog. My people in my office and friends know I started saying it many years ago.) It matches my intention of wishing that someone experiences meaning, despite whatever joyful, neutral, stressful, or painful experiences the holidays bring.
4. Keep it simple, and stick to non-seasonal greetings.
It’s also okay not to say anything holiday-related at all. “Hello” and “Hi, how are you?” are solid any time of the year.
5. Find something that works for you.
“Peaceful holidays to you” and “Warm wishes” often express what I’m hoping to communicate to someone. What would you like to give as a holiday message? If that’s difficult to determine, flip it. What would feel better to receive as a holiday wish? Answering that will probably lead you to what you can say that’s authentic, precise, and congruent.
The bottom line
A lot can get in the way of experiencing a happy holiday. Maybe you’re grieving a loss this season. Your mental health took a dip. You want to give gifts, but Covid or life took away your choices, options, or money. You struggle with depression. And so much more.
Our words matching our intentions and experiences matter to our overall wellness—even in something as seemingly minor as a holiday greeting. Repeated, inauthentic, and uncomfortable interactions with people can slowly chip away at self-image and overall wellness. Thus, especially if you are already down, it’s in your best interest to find a way to graciously say what you mean and mean what you say. Besides, you never know who is also affected negatively by “Happy holidays!” Your greeting may help them, too.
There won’t be a holiday wish revolution immediately, but you and I can change our own little corners. Just wait until you notice that your precise wording caught someone off guard and elicited their thoughtfulness. “Oh wow. I like that you say that.” It can be such a connecting—instead of disconnecting—experience. Most importantly, you can take better care of yourself during this season that emphasizes “happy” as if it’s automatic for everyone.
Wishing you each a season of meaningful experiences.
This blog is for informational purposes and does not provide therapy or professional advice.