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How Holiday Expectations Can Ruin a Perfectly Good Day

Imagine having a day off to do anything you like. On this hypothetical day, you have no work, no assignments that are due, and no obligations. You can just think about what would make you happy — within the realm of what you can afford to do and what you can manage to do, logistically – and then just do it.

Now also imagine that what you crave is time to yourself. Maybe, ordinarily, you don’t get enough of it. Or maybe you are the kind of person who loves your solitude so much, that almost no amount of it is too much.

On this special day when can choose to do whatever you like, you will probably choose to be on your own. And you will be so very happy. Maybe you will read by a roaring fire or binge-watch TV or go for a walk at some spectacularly beautiful place. Or maybe you will spend the day enjoying your pets or cooking something wonderful or going out to dinner or a movie or a sports event or some other cultural event. Perhaps you will take that day trip you’ve been fantasizing about. Or maybe there is some volunteer work that you find meaningful and fulfilling but do not have a chance to do as often as you’d like. Whatever it is, it is great because it is exactly what you chose.

Now add one more ingredient: It is a big holiday. Thanksgiving, for example. Or maybe Christmas.

Now how do you feel?

For many people, that awesome day that you planned, that seemed so wonderful because it was filled with the kinds of experiences that bring you joy, now has a shadow over it. That’s the darkness of holiday expectations, the burden of what other people think you should be doing. Especially on days like Thanksgiving and Christmas, togetherness is practically obligatory. You are supposed to be with family and friends.

For me, I sometimes get to spend holidays with friends or relatives I do not get to see nearly as often as I would like. I love that. But I am also one of those persons who basks in her alone time. I hate to admit that when I do spend holidays alone, doing things that I love, there is still a tiny nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that I’m not supposed to be alone on a holiday. One way I deal with that is to defy it, publicly. I don’t stay home and hide. I go out and about, on my own.

Other people have gotten past this issue, or never did let it bother them. They are my heroes and heroines. Someday, I want to be like them, and succeed in banishing what’s left of that annoying little voice.

[For other thoughts about the holidays, previously posted at this blog and elsewhere, click here. And happy holidays, however you are spending them.]

How Holiday Expectations Can Ruin a Perfectly Good Day

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2019). How Holiday Expectations Can Ruin a Perfectly Good Day. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2019, from


Last updated: 23 Nov 2019
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