How to Enjoy the Holidays Your Way
Faith Hill offers advice on creating new rituals, taking solitude breaks, and having actual fun.
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My colleague Faith Hill focuses much of her writing on what people actually need and want in day-to-day life, and why those needs aren’t as universal as we might assume. I called Faith, a senior associate editor for our Family section, to talk about how best to enjoy the holidays—your own way.
But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
Isabel Fattal: What do you recommend to someone who wants to create a new holiday ritual or tradition?
Faith Hill: Try experimenting. We often think about a ritual as something that happens to us, or that we have to earn once we’ve been doing something for a long time. But if you set out to create a ritual and you see what sticks, you might learn a lot about what you love to do. And really, a ritual is an activity that you imbue with meaning. So just by calling it a “ritual,” you’re deeming it special.
Isabel: What are some ways of managing the stress that can come with interacting with family?
Faith: It’s totally fair if you find family time over the holidays stressful, but it might help to remember that it’s not going to last forever. And it’s okay if you need to take some little solitude breaks. When I’ve talked to solitude researchers recently, a number of them reminded me that alone time doesn’t exist in opposition to connection. Solitude can help us connect to people.
If you are able to step away and tell people gently that you’re going to take a quick walk by yourself, it might feel weird, but hopefully people understand. And then when you go back to the group, you can be more generous with your time and attention, and perhaps better able to appreciate those moments.
Isabel: You often write about solitude. How can someone who is spending the holiday alone—whether by choice or due to circumstances like being sick—find meaning in the experience?
Faith: When I was reporting my piece on taking yourself on a date, I went into it assuming that a lot of people had a bad time being alone early in the pandemic, given that it was forced. But some of the researchers I spoke with told me that a lot of people ended up enjoying their solitude, even if they hadn’t originally wanted it. What turned out to be really important was whether they saw that time as an opportunity. That’s not to blame anyone who has struggled with isolation. But it does suggest that deciding to see your alone time as special and purposeful can be really helpful.
You can think of it as the rare chance to decide how to spend your time without having to negotiate with other people. You’re getting to know yourself. I think a lot of people associate solitude with boredom or anxiety. But you don’t need to be a purist about solitude. You can do an activity; you can watch a movie. The world is rich and engaging, and you’re a part of it.
Isabel: That reminds me of your own ritual that you wrote about: After taking yourself to the movies each week, you walk home across the Brooklyn Bridge, experiencing the buzz of humanity even when you’re alone.
Faith: Exactly. One researcher I talked with likes to think about it as different rooms of solitude. Solitude is a house: One room might be the classic solitude of being totally alone in a private space and thinking. And one might be, like, you’re physically alone, but you’re reading a book and connecting with the characters in the book. And then another room is being out in the park and people-watching. So you are alone, but you’re also picking up the energy of other people and making eye contact with them. And that’s its own form of connection, but you can still be alone with your thoughts and away from social expectations.
Isabel: On Halloween, you made the case that adults should have more true, meaningless fun—the kind kids know how to have. How can we move beyond to-do lists and bring that spirit into all of the holidays?
Faith: It’s true that the holidays are a time that’s supposed to be fun, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are always fun. For that Halloween piece, I referenced Catherine Price’s book The Power of Fun. She defines fun as involving three elements: playfulness, connection, and flow, or undistracted engagement. But she also talks about “fake fun.” We have this idea in our head of what is supposed to be fun, but it’s not necessarily what actually feels good or is playful or is letting us connect.
So my advice would be: Pay attention to what is actually feeling worthwhile and fun. Inevitably, there are some holiday obligations; it can’t all be fun all the time. But if you’re able to monitor how you’re feeling about things, you can start to figure out what you’re actually doing for fun, and what you could cut out of your life or your holiday routine.
Isabel: What have you learned through your work that has changed your view of how humans have fun and find joy?
Faith: One surprising thing I’ve learned about having fun is just how much we need it. I’m very much guilty of not prioritizing fun in my life. I have close friendships that mean so much to me, but I often think about our time together as being about catching up, talking about what we’re going through. In my adult life, I don’t usually think about the need to be playful and silly. But it turns out that play is really good for us. It’s associated with health benefits, and it facilitates bonding, learning, and creativity. Researchers even talk about “play deprivation,” which is kind of a hilarious term, but it’s really real.
One thing that’s come up in my reporting lately is how much Americans tend to prioritize work and productivity, and deprioritize the kinds of play that aren’t just social engagements you can check off a list (which is another form of productivity). I want to be more active about how I find fun and joy. I think the holidays, when we take a pause from our life, are going to be a good time to start thinking about that.
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Why Read Literary Biography?
By Lauren Groff
What strange beasts literary biographies are, how mixed their reasons for existing. The desire to read one must come from admiration for the writer’s work, but a literary biographer’s central concern isn’t a writer’s work; it’s the writer’s life. And, though the gods of capitalism may grumble at my saying this, an artist’s work and life are radically separate things. The art comes alive only when it meets another mind, like desert seeds that wait patiently until a freak rainfall wakes them, flowering, from sleep. A life, however, is made of baser stuff, such as breakdowns in grocery-store checkouts, simmering humiliations too banal to record, deeply questionable habits of hygiene.
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Faith is currently reading a book that is very on-theme for her: Edith Wharton’s The Mother’s Recompense, a novel about an exiled woman returning from the French Riviera to the daughter she left behind. Faith doesn’t yet have “a grand theory about what it says about solitude,” but she says it “does a really good job of capturing the main character’s complicated feelings about solitude and connection.”