Mental Health
It's Okay To Be Happy About Not Going Home For The Holidays

It's Okay To Be Happy About Not Going Home For The Holidays

6 min read


Caitlin Harper

Despite what the song says, some people can beat home sweet home and are more than happy to spend the holidays away from family and even alone. But when every commercial, jingle, carol, and guilt-tripping family member tells you you’re wrong for feeling that way, it can stir up a lot of complicated feelings.

But here's a secret that's not shared often enough: it's entirely normal not to be exuberantly happy during the holidays. In fact, the expectation of constant happiness can be detrimental, as it dismisses the complex range of emotions we all experience. Life doesn't pause during the holidays, and it's okay to feel the full spectrum of feelings, whether that's happiness, sadness, nostalgia, or even a mixture of them all.

We all have different reasons why the holiday season might not be the happiest time of the year. It could be the absence of loved ones, financial stress, work commitments, or simply the weight of expectations that can make you feel like you're walking on eggshells. There's no one-size-fits-all script for how you should feel during this time. If you haven’t gone home for the holidays or you’re not planning to and you’re feeling fine, you’re definitely not alone.

There is a lot of pressure to be happy at the holidays—but it’s normal not to be

The holiday season brings with it a special kind of magic. Streets are adorned with twinkling lights, carolers serenade us with familiar tunes, and the aroma of freshly baked treats fills the air. It's a time when the expectation of joy, happiness, and togetherness is at its peak. But what if, in the midst of all this festive cheer, you find yourself feeling less than jolly? The truth is, there's an immense amount of pressure to be happy during the holidays, and it's a pressure that can take a toll on anyone's emotional well-being.

It's essential to acknowledge that it's perfectly normal not to be brimming with happiness throughout the holiday season. The truth is that emotions, just like the seasons, change. Happiness, sadness, excitement, and stress are all part of the human experience. The holidays can be a particularly emotional time, as they often evoke memories, both good and bad. It's crucial to give yourself permission to feel whatever emotions come naturally, without the added weight of guilt or self-criticism.

In fact, allowing yourself to experience and express your authentic emotions is a healthy way to navigate the holiday season. Suppressing or denying your feelings can lead to increased stress and anxiety. Instead, consider giving yourself the gift of self-compassion and understanding. If you're not feeling festive, that's alright. You can still find ways to make the most of the season in a way that feels right for you. Carve out time for yourself, whether it's taking time for self-care, seeking support from loved ones, finding your own unique way to mark the season, or connecting with your inner child (take this quiz to see if you're connecting with your inner child).

There can be a lot of guilt around choosing to stay home for the holidays, but what you do is up to you

Choosing to stay home for the holidays, instead of participating in the whirlwind of festivities, can be a decision laden with guilt. It's as if there's an unwritten rule that says you must be present at every family gathering or follow the well-trodden path of holiday customs. But let's set the record straight: it's perfectly valid to choose the comfort of your own home over the bustling holiday scene.

In a world that often expects us to conform, it's crucial to remember that your choices are your own. This is especially true during the holidays. Whether it's due to a need for rest, a desire to embrace solitude, or simply a preference for a different kind of celebration, your choice to stay home should be honored and respected.

It's important to recognize that the guilt around staying home can be self-imposed or come from external pressures. Family and societal expectations can weigh heavily on your decision-making process, but it's important to remember that it's your life, your holidays, and your happiness on the line. Your well-being should always be a top priority.

Acknowledging Their Disappointment and Excusing Yourself from Guilt

One of the most challenging aspects of choosing to stay home for the holidays, especially when it involves breaking with tradition or not meeting others' expectations, is facing the disappointment of loved ones. Whether it's your parents, siblings, or close friends, the thought of letting them down can be a heavy burden.

First and foremost, it's essential to acknowledge and validate their feelings of disappointment. Understand that their reactions are coming from a place of love and tradition. When you recognize and empathize with their emotions, it shows that you respect and care for their feelings, even if you're making a different choice.

However, it's crucial to remember that your choices are yours to make. While you can acknowledge their disappointment, you should also excuse yourself from unnecessary guilt.

Managing feelings of guilt during the holiday season, whether it's related to family obligations, gift-giving, or personal choices, can be particularly challenging. Here are some strategies to help support you when managing holiday-related guilt:

Reflect on the Source of Guilt

Understand what is causing your feelings of guilt during the holiday season. Is it related to not meeting others' expectations, or does it stem from personal choices or actions? Identifying the source is the first step in addressing it.

Set Realistic Expectations

Manage your own and others' expectations. Realize that the holidays do not need to be picture-perfect, and it's okay to set boundaries and make choices that prioritize your well-being.

Establish Boundaries

Set boundaries for yourself and communicate them clearly with others. Let your loved ones know what you're comfortable with and what you're not, whether it's related to social events, gift-giving, or other holiday traditions.

Practice Self-Compassion

Be kind to yourself. Remember that you're doing your best, and it's natural to experience moments of stress or guilt. Treat yourself with the same compassion you would offer to a friend.

Accept Imperfection

Understand that imperfection is part of life, and that includes the holiday season. Embrace the idea that things may not go as planned, and that's okay.

What advice can you give to help manage these feelings during the holiday season?

Deciding to stay home for the holidays and managing potential guilt or confusion from family can be a delicate process. Here are some tips to help you navigate this situation:

Stay Calm and Patient

It's possible that your family may not immediately understand or accept your decision. In such cases, remaining patient and staying calm can go a long way in maintaining open lines of communication.

Supportive Allies

Identify family members who understand your perspective and can help explain it to others. Having allies within the family can be a valuable asset.

Be Consistent

Once you've made your decision, it's essential to stick to it. Consistency demonstrates your commitment to your choice and helps your family gradually adapt to the new situation.

Avoid Blame

Steer clear of blaming or criticizing family members for their expectations or traditions. Focus on your own needs and desires rather than making it a confrontational issue.

Plan Ahead

Making your decision well in advance allows your family to consider alternative plans. It also demonstrates your commitment to being transparent and respectful of their expectations.

Honesty and Transparency

When explaining your decision, be open and honest about why you're choosing to stay home. Whether it's for self-care, rest, or personal reasons, let your family know your motivations so they can better understand your perspective.

How do you find meaning in holidays without being home?

Celebrating holidays meaningfully away from home can be both fulfilling and special. You can establish new traditions, virtually connect with loved ones, host a "Friendsgiving" or "Friendsmas" with friends who are also away, or embark on a holiday getaway to explore new horizons. 

Consider crafting DIY decorations, cooking favorite holiday recipes, or hosting a potluck with friends. Engage in self-reflection and personal growth, experience local cultural celebrations, and give back by volunteering in your community. Embracing solitude, appreciating nature, and meaningful gift-giving can also infuse your holiday season with significance. Additionally, take time to relax and recharge. Regardless of where you are, these activities can help you create a meaningful and memorable holiday experience.

Work with a therapist this holiday season.

You don't need to be completely overwhelmed or suffering in order to work with a therapist. Even if you're simply coping with some additional holiday stress, a therapist can help you set healthy boundaries and develop effective coping mechanisms.

If you already see a therapist, try your best to keep your appointments during the holiday season, even when things get overwhelming or busy. Of all the routines to stick to, the ones that support your mental health are the most important.

If you haven't started working with the therapist yet, adding that to your plate during the holidays might seem like a burden, but it doesn't have to be. Match with a therapist in less than five minutes.

Not sure if you should speak with a therapist? Take this quiz to see if you could benefit from therapy or coaching.

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About the author

Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at

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