I can’t possibly be the only person who dreads the holidays. I’m not talking about the frenzy of last-minute shopping, like when you get to the point where Smurf shot glasses are suddenly looking like a reasonable gift. Or spending what feels like a year of your life circling around the parking lot for a space. Nope, none of that really bothers me. What I dread is the get-togethers, where people I barely see feel the need to comment on the state of my life like a glorified therapist. Because you know, God forbid you don’t follow a “normal” trajectory of school, job, marriage, kids, and retirement. You know what I’m talking about. Those family members who reassure you that they’re “only helping” when they insult your dinner, your job, your weight, the way you’ve raised your children, styled your hair, etc. And with a controversial election that has lead to a stern division in opinion never seen before, lines in the sand have been drawn not only among party supporters, but also between neighbors, friends, and families. This could lead to potentially unpleasant discussions around the dinner table this holiday season, aided and abetted, perhaps, by one too many cups of eggnog.
I know a very select group of people (and by that I mean one or two) who refuse to allow these types of circumstances to bother them. Like the Dalai Lama, they maintain their Zen-like composure, even under a barrage of thinly veiled (or boldly blunt) insults. When I asked what their secret was, they simply shrugged and said, “I just don’t let these people bother me. Usually, when people feel the need to find fault in others or the way they live their life, it’s because it makes them feel better about their own discontent.”
But I needed more info. I wanted to know why some people find it so easy to get along with everyone…without the blissful joy of alcohol. So I dug. Analyzing data from 4,092 people who took our Emotional Intelligence Test, I simply compared two distinct groups: Those who are happy with the relationships in their lives and those who are not. Five key traits stood out like a parking space right in front of the mall, or like the last piece of cheesecake:
(Note: Scores range on a scale from 0 to 100)
- Score for people who are content with their relationships: 72
- Score for people who are discontent: 47
Content people go into every situation with a hopeful and optimistic outlook. Even when times are challenging, they strive to look for the silver lining, and see every hardship as an opportunity to learn and grow. They try to find the best in others, even if they don’t entirely see eye-to-eye with a person.
How it can help during the holidays: Rather than going into the holidays with a defeatist attitude (like me), see it as an opportunity to make changes for the better, mend bridges, and start again.
- Score for people who are content with their relationships: 72
- Score for people who are discontent: 50
Content people recognize their value and go into relationships believing that they deserve just as much love and respect as the other person. High self-esteem acts like a protective barrier, where no insult, disparaging remark or failure can penetrate and damage the bearer’s sense of self-worth. People with high self-esteem accept themselves, quirks and all, because they know they are special. People with low self-esteem, on the other hand, are more likely to put down others in order to boost their own fragile sense of self.
How it can help during the holidays: Whether it’s a dig against your cooking, outfit or job/relationship status, don’t allow other people’s opinion of you dictate how you feel about yourself. Look beyond the medium to find the message: Behind every insult is the desire to offer advice, even if poorly worded. And sometimes, people will bring you down in order to feel better about their own shortcomings.
- Score for people who are content with their relationships: 77
- Score for people who are discontent: 58
Content people have developed a strength of character that allows them to see and approach hardship in a unique way. They interpret obstacles, failures, and difficulties as a test of skill rather than as an impassable roadblock. Even if faced with a circumstance that they will have to deal with for the rest of their life (e.g. illness, loss), they use adversity to make them stronger. This inner strength allows them to empathize with the hardships of others, and potentially guide those who are also struggling.
How it can help during the holidays: As you ponder the year that has passed, don’t view your failures as endings, but rather, as an opportunity to do things better in the time to come. The most impactful lessons are those that are learned the hard way.
- Score for people who are content with their relationships: 70
- Score for people who are discontent: 53
Content people make it a point to tune into their emotions. Rather than just scratching the surface, they strive to understand why a situation or person causes them to react in a certain way. They understand that feelings are more than just a response: They offer a message that allows them to better understand their wants and desires, and the motive behind their actions.
How it can help during the holidays: Your feelings are your responsibility and are under your control. A person cannot make you angry…you allow yourself to react this way. If someone says something to upset you, take a step back and try to gain perspective of the situation. Why have this person’s words affected you so much? Perhaps they bother you because they are touching on a truth you are not ready to admit to yourself, or they remind you of a difficult time. Understanding where your reaction comes from is the first step toward better self-awareness.
- Score for people who are content with their relationships: 74
- Score for people who are discontent: 64
Content people do not see the world in black and white. There is room for diverse opinions and different interpretations of facts or truths. While they may not agree with other people’s perspectives, content people recognize that everyone has a right to their opinion. They are open to different ideas and views, if only to gain a broader understanding of an issue.
How it can help during the holidays: Before judging a person’s opinion or choice as right or wrong, take a step back to consider the situation from their perspective. Try to understand what would motivate a person to choose a certain path. What a person values, desires, and fears can play a role in the decisions they make and actions they take.
So while the holidays are generally a joyful time, they can also turn into a free-for-all where people hash out their differences or say things they wouldn’t normally say any other time of the year. However, rather than worrying about other people’s conduct, focus on monitoring your own. As a wise friend once put it, what’s important is to focus on yourself:
It is important for you to genuinely understand what your perception of yourself is, and hold to that. Know that that is valid and is right for you, but also recognize that the other individuals may incorporate a different perception of you. In actuality all individuals will incorporate somewhat of a different perception of you than you do of yourself. But it matters not, for that does not invalidate your perception, or the validity of it. Therefore, it is a matter of recognizing that, regardless of what the other individuals’ perceptions are, it does not discount you or invalidate you, and therefore, it is not necessary to be threatened by the other individuals’ perceptions. And it is also not necessary to change the other individuals’ perceptions. When you can move in a direction of genuinely being comfortable and satisfied and acknowledging of yourself, you can also begin to move in the direction of acknowledging and accepting differences in other individuals and not being threatened by that, and recognizing that their perception is equally as valid as yours.