Loneliness During the Holidays

The holidays can be a time of immense sadness, heartache and loneliness for some people – and that’s okay. How do you make it through the holidays when you don’t feel full of joy?

It’s December, which means the jingles are jingling, the carolers are caroling, and the “holiday spirit” is in the air. For some, this can be a time of joy, love and connection. For others, this can be a time of immense sadness, heartache and loneliness.

I know all too well both extreme ends of this spectrum. On one hand, this time of year brings me closer to a sense of deep connection with my family and friends, and pushes me to be more giving and kind to others. At the same time, I miss family who live out of town, I long for loved ones who passed away, and I experience nostalgia of a pastime that is no longer.

The holiday cheer that our culture puts on a pedestal doesn’t make these moments of loneliness any better. Joy, love and everlasting happiness are shoved down our throats so forcefully, it can feel like we’re broken if we don’t feel these emotions at every moment of the season. Happiness sells, and so it’s marketed as goods and services that we must buy and own.

Unfortunately, this marketing gives the impression that to be a normal, everyday human, we must act like a Who from Whoville – smiling, singing and dancing with overwhelming happiness. The problem is, as humans, sometimes we actually feel like the Grinch – castaway to the mountains, doomed to only watch as everyone else gets to experience love and connection but us.

My takeaway from the classic Dr. Seuss story is these two emotional experiences – joy (Whoville) and loneliness (The Grinch) – do not need to live separately. Eventually, rather than trying to fight off The Grinch, Whoville was willing to accept him as part of their holiday experience. Similarly, you can simultaneously love the holiday, take part in the festivities, and at the exact same time, feel sadness, grief, stress and loneliness.

It’s okay if you don’t “live up” to the holiday hype. You are allowed to feel exactly what you feel, without exception. If you are feeling lonely, rather than trying to make yourself feel better, try treating the feeling the same way Whoville treated The Grinch at the end of the story – open yourself up to loneliness and continue to do what matters most to you during the season.

Remember, feeling lonely and being alone is not the same thing. In fact, feeling lonely is an indicator that connecting with others is something that matters to you. If that’s the case, let loneliness be the kind reminder to reach out to friends, family, partners, or even strangers. Go to that holiday party, or create one of your own, and take loneliness with you like The Unwelcome Party Guest.

This holiday season, don’t buy into the myth that you must be happy to be normal. You also don’t have to banish yourself into reclusion if you feel down or lonely. When you feel joy, great! Do all of those things you love to do when you feel happy!

And, when you feel lonely – that’s okay too. Notice, you can still do all of the things you love to do, even when you feel lonely.