If the holidays are hard for you, doing these 4 things could really help.

I'm at a Christmas party. The people are gracious, the food is scrumptious, the wine is fantastic, and so is the music.

But I’m miserable. Why?

Because in my mind, this is what's playing in a loop: You should be happy. You should be grateful. You should be thankful.


Should be. For many folks, the holidays are a beautiful time of year. A time of rest, connection with loved ones, and celebration. But let's be real: that doesn't mean it's all mistletoe and cheer.

Image via iStock.

The holidays can also be a time of grief, family tensions, loneliness, and facing our own imperfections.

For me, the holidays are brutal because my brother and several friends died this time of year. Since this is traditionally a time of remembrance, I find it doubly hard to bring my heart into the present. Even though I'm surrounded by people at this Christmas party, I feel lonely. Worse: I feel like it's not OK to have these feelings.

Image by Tarang hirani/Flickr.

I know I'm not the only one.

One of my close friends was abandoned by her husband in December, and she's reminded of his betrayal every time the holidays roll around. She actually loves Christmas, but that pain is always awakened in the holiday season.

Even if you haven't experienced a major loss, we're all hit with a set of assumptions and expectations this time of year. That we should black out our calendars for holiday events with people we may not be all that excited to see. That we should be available to participate in activities that can be really draining. That we should spend money. Lots of money. And, all the while, that we should be full of joy.

Image by jpellgen/Flickr.

So what if you're not? What if, like my friend, you’re feeling lonely and hurt? What if, like me, you're aching in grief as you remember the loss of someone beloved?

If this is a difficult time of year for you, understand that you're not alone. The holidays are in no position to create a happy ending where none exists.

Which is why I want to offer these four suggestions to those who need them:

1. Turn off the Christmas carols if you're not in the mood, and don't go to that party if you don't want to.

Because you don't have to get into the holiday spirit. You don't have to feel the way others tell you to feel. You only need to care for yourself and offer yourself to others as best you can.

Image by Tom Lin/Flickr.

The fact is, trying to repress your true feelings and appear cheery and grateful when you're actually suffering doesn't really work. Psychologist Iris Mauss conducted a series of studies in which she found that the more value people placed on feeling happy, the less happy and more lonely they were likely to be. Research also shows that focusing on attaining happiness by fulfilling materialistic desires — a holiday pastime — can increase the risk of depression, can decrease the quality of relationships, and can mean less happiness in the long run.

Go ahead and feel what you need to feel. It's better for you.

2. If you're grieving, understand that the pain associated with it is perfectly natural.

Grieving hurts so vividly because it’s a wail of aching love, repeated to infinity. In this wailing is an opportunity to acknowledge our losses and remember those who have been taken from us. It's also an invitation to stand in solidarity with those who have experienced similar pain, without shame.

Image by Melvin E/Flickr.

3. If the season is making you feel lonely, give yourself permission to be brave enough to reach out to someone.

You might be embarrassed and feel the desire to self-isolate. The tendency to hide can explode amid the holidays because there's so much pressure to appear "perfect." We're brought face-to-face with our imperfections, and this couldn't be more true than with our relationships. Many people have strained or disconnected relationships with their families. Others find that, as the holidays approach, many of their friends aren't really there for them.

Reach out so someone who can be there for you. Just one person. That friend who seems to get you even though you rarely see her? Give her a call. That teacher who stood by your side when your world was falling apart? Reach out to him.

4. If there isn't a specific person you want to reach out to, don't be afraid to choose to be alone with intention.

Spending time in silence can actually cultivate confidence. It can allow you to observe your emotions more objectively and teach you the value of learning to enjoy your own company, instead of buying into the assumption that there's something inherently wrong with spending time alone.

Step into nature and allow it to inform you. Journal your wounds onto the page. It can be hard, I know. But if you choose to stand in your brokenness, it will begin to lose some of its power over you.

Image by Ryan Blanding/Flickr.

None of these activities will make your pain go away, but they will ensure you have the space you need to grieve safely and in a spirit of love.

If we'd just allow ourselves to be brave enough to express how we're really feeling, this season could be a time for authentic connection and healing.

This brings me back to that Christmas party: I remember seeing a friend of mine in the corner, nursing a drink, looking terribly uncomfortable. Her eyes conveyed a deep pain she was clearly trying to mask. I could have approached her and acknowledged her. I could have offered her my presence by standing with her in silence. But I didn't. At the time, I was too self-absorbed and nervous.

If I could do it again, I'd tell her exactly what I'd be much more confident in saying now: the truth.

I'd tell her I hated being at the party, and that every day in the Christmas season is profoundly painful for me. I wouldn't try to make her feel great by pretending to feel great.

I'd try to make her feel loved by being vulnerable. By feeling what I need to feel and being who I can't help but be. And you can, too.

Cats are notoriously weird. Everyone who's had cats knows that they each have their own unique quirks, idiosyncrasies, preferences, habits, and flat-out WTFness.

But even those of us who have experience with bizarre cat behavior are blown away by the antics this "cat dad" is able to get away with.

Kareem and Fifi are the cat parents of Chase, Skye, and Millie—literally the most chill kitties ever. They share their family life on TikTok as @dontstopmeowing, and their videos have been viewed millions of times. When you see them, you'll understand why.

Take Chase's spa days, for example. It may seem unreal at first, but watch what happens when Fifi tries to take away his cucumber slices.

When she puts them back on his eyes? WHAT?! What cat would let you put them on once, much less get mad when you take them off?

This cat. Chase is living his best life.

But apparently, it's not just Chase. Skye and Millie have also joined in "spaw day." How on earth does one couple end up with three hilariously malleable cats?

Oh, and if you think they must have been sedated or something, look at how wide awake they are during bath time. That's right, bath time. Most cats hate water, but apparently, these three couldn't care less. How?

They'll literally do anything. The Don't Stop Meowing channel is filled with videos like this. Cats wearing glasses. Cats wearing hats. Cats driving cars. It's unbelievable yet highly watchable entertainment.

If you're worried that Kareem gets all the love and Fifi constantly gets the shaft, that seems to be a bit for show. Look at Chase and Fifi's conversation about her leaving town for a business trip:

The whole channel is worth checking out. Ever seen a cat being carried in a baby carrier at the grocery store? A cat buckled into a car seat? Three cats sitting through storytime? It's all there. (Just a heads up: A few of the videos have explicit language, so parents might want to do a preview before watching with little ones.) You can follow the couple and their cats on all their social media channels, including Instagram and YouTube if TikTok isn't your thing, here.

If you weren't a cat person before, these videos might change your mind. Fair warning, however: Getting a cat because you want them to do things like this would be a mistake. Cats do what they want to do, and no one can predict what weird traits they will have. Even if you raise them from kittenhood, they're still unpredictable and weird.

And honestly, we wouldn't have them any other way.

True

We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

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When Donato Di Camillo was a kid, his family couldn't afford film for their Polaroid camera.

So instead, he ran around the house with a film-less camera pretending to be a hotshot photographer on an African safari, mimicking the heroes behind iconic photos he saw in the discarded National Geographic magazines his dad grabbed for him out of the garbage.

Years later, when Di Camillo found himself in prison after collecting a lengthy rap sheet of thefts, he discovered a library full of those same magazines.

While other inmates were working out or getting into trouble, he pored over old issues of National Geographic, Life, and Time.

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There have been many iconic dance routines throughout film history, but how many have the honor being called "the greatest" by Fred Astaire himself?

Fayard and Harold Nicholas, known collectively as the Nicholas Brothers, were arguably the best at what they did during their heyday. Their coordinated tap routines are legendary, not only because they were great dancers, but because of their incredible ability to jump into the air and land in the splits. Repeatedly. From impressive heights.

Their most famous routine comes from the movie "Stormy Weather." As Cab Calloway sings "Jumpin' Jive," the Nicholas Brothers make the entire set their dance floor, hopping and tapping from podium to podium amongst the musicians, dancing up and down stairs and across the top of a piano.

But what makes this scene extra impressive is that they performed it without rehearsing it first and it was filmed in one take—no fancy editing room tricks to bring it all together. This fact was confirmed in a conversation with the brothers in a Chicago Tribune article in 1997, when they were both in their 70s:

"Would you believe that was one of the easiest things we ever did?" Harold told the paper.

"Did you know that we never even rehearsed that number?" added Fayard.

"When it came time to do that part, (choreographer) Nick Castle said: 'Just do it. Don`t rehearse it, just do it.' And so we did it—in one little take. And then he said: 'That's it—we can't do it any better than that.'"

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