Holiday parties, gift buying, end-of-year performance reviews—the holidays can be overwhelming and exhausting. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

While riding the elevator at my dentist’s office, I stuck up a conversation with Jackie.

“Another beautiful day, right?” I asked, pointing out the magnificence of 60+ degrees in early December in Maryland.

“Yeah, great weather, but I hate this time of year,” Jackie responded.

Hate? Yikes. Why?”

After hearing Jackie’s angst about the holidays, I remembered back to the beginning of October when I found myself already anticipating a rough holiday season. This has been a particularly challenging year of loss in my life, and I couldn’t imagine how the holiday season could be anything other than painful.

That is until Pat, a wise woman and mentor, asked a question that stopped me in my tracks, offering a perspective that completely shifted my experience of the holidays.

“What do you want this holiday season to be like for you, Misti?” Pat asked.

“What do I want, Pat?” I asked as if such a choice didn’t exist. “I want my holidays to be filled with meaningful conversations, connection, laughter and joy,” I said, as I caught myself thinking about the absurdity of such an idea.

“Okay, then,” Pat said, “Now you know where to focus your time and energy.”

My initial thought—“Yeah, right! It’s not that easy.” My second thought—“What if it really was that easy?”

What’s interesting is what happened next.

I began focusing my time and energy on having meaningful conversations, deepening connections, laughing and finding the joy in each experience.

Six weeks later, I marveled at the joy I felt throughout the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. It was filled with meaningful conversations, connections and joy—for the most part, which was exceedingly better than my visions back in October.

“And all I did was decide,” I said to Jackie with a joy-filled smile. Then, I saw that confused—“You-don’t-know-the-number-of-people-with-expectations-in-my-life”—look on Jackie’s face and paused.

You may disappoint others as you make the shift from the frenzy of gift buying to the serenity of whatever-it-is-that-brings-you-the-most-joy (which may be shopping), but it’s worth it. It’s worth it for your health, relationships, peace and serenity.

This one choice can free you to enjoy the holiday season.

Consider this question as you decide how to spend your time during the holidays—will it bring me deeper connections and more joy? If the answer is clearly “No,” then you know to either opt out or figure out what you need to do differently keep your joy.

This process has been especially good for my pocketbook and the artists in my life. Rather then spending time at the mall or online, I’ve opted to gift their beautiful music. Every time I send the gift, my joy increases. And, when they hear the song, I imagine the joy it brings to them and anyone they share it with.

Now that’s what I want my holidays to be like!

How about you? Do you love shopping, making mounds of food, playing games, going for hikes (or being in nature), traveling, writing thoughtful cards, music, or something else?

Whatever it is that brings you the most joy, do it!

Does that mean some people may experience disappointment? Maybe. But what if you communicated your deeply held desires with honesty and asked for their help? And what if their desires match yours, allowing both of you to experience great joy this holiday season?

While you cannot control other people’s reactions to your decisions, you can create a joyful holiday season for yourself. And I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather spend time with me when I’m joyful than bitter.

I’d love to hear your answer to Pat’s wise question—What do you want your holiday season to be like? What choices are you making to bring your desires into reality?

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister