The holiday season ushers in many wonderful feelings each year, including joy, goodwill, and a sense of excitement. But these feelings can quickly and easily get overshadowed by negative ones. One in particular is the perceived need for perfection.
To illustrate this all-too-frequent reality, take a moment and ask yourself how you honestly feel about the following scenarios:
- After hours of work, the tree is finally decorated and looks fantastic … but then a row of lights flickers off.
- You’ve bought (and wrapped!) a great gift for your niece … but then notice a tear on the side of the wrapping. Or worse, you stumble upon an even better present.
- You bought the cutest sweater for a Christmas party … only to find out after you wash it that the stitching is splitting a tiny bit under one arm.
- The cookies you made for the holiday get-together smell heavenly … but come out of the oven slightly burnt.
If any of those scenarios makes you cringe, you’re not alone. After all, there are ample opportunities for seeking perfection during the holidays. People may strive to buy the perfect gifts, make sure they are wrapped flawlessly, and hope that the tree they’re under is set up impeccably. Some may try to choose just the right card with just the right sentiment. Many will want their home to be the embodiment of the holidays, which would include a Rockwell-worthy holiday meal and place setting to match.
The problem with perfection
So why do some people strive for perfection, especially during a season that’s already associated with hustle and bustle? Many experts agree that it is likely a result of compensating for some sort of self-doubt or insecurity, a sense of never being good enough.
Ironically, by trying to make ourselves perfect, we can make ourselves feel worse, especially during the holidays. For others, it’s trying to recapture an essence of innocence they felt when they were younger but no longer do—and this is only exacerbated during the holiday season, which can quickly lead to anxiety, stress, and unhappiness when the unrealistic ideal isn’t met.
Part of the blame, of course, can also be attributed to Western culture. Our society emphasizes flawlessness, as seen on magazine covers and in videos and commercials. In many ways, this is why people love celebrities, who seem to embody not only physical perfection but also impeccable lives, homes, and even cars.
Holiday art and entertainment also embody such idealism. For example, Thomas Kincaid’s paintings have been hugely popular because of his seemingly perfect winter scenes, and Hallmark and Lifetime movies crank out examples of awww-inspiring, impossibly feel-good holiday romances. These can elicit smiles and joy about the season, yet they can also lead to disappointment if we compare them with our own lives, which will never meet such ideals.
It all begs the question: How do we stop striving for everything to be perfect?
The perfect solutions
Philosophers, physicists, politicians, and other leaders have pondered perfection for ages, so let’s see what we can learn from a few of them to set healthier standards, both during the holidays and beyond.
“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”
— Leo Tolstoy
What is your ultimate goal, improvement or perfection? This simply comes down to which you’re more likely to achieve and will thus make you happy. Take wrapping presents, for example. You may take hours getting that done, making sure that they look amazing: precisely aligned, with a bow and ribbon right in the middle of each gift. They may be Instagram-worthy, but how could you have used that time better? Spending it with loved ones, perhaps? Or maybe getting something else checked off your to-do list?
Making any progress should be your ultimate goal, not something unattainable. Tolstoy’s bit of advice is especially poignant once the new year—and diet season—arrives. Most experts believe that, instead of rushing into immediate, unrealistic fitness resolutions, you’re more likely to have success by setting shorter, manageable goals. Despite what we often hear nowadays, slow and steady does indeed win the race.
“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”
— Vince Lombardi
There are two key takeaways from the coach’s famous saying above if you want to achieve a healthier well-being.
First, acknowledge that perfection isn’t possible (and, if it were, it wouldn’t last). Then, in that context, seeking it can be a useful tool for getting the best out of yourself or others. It’s all about the goals you set and how realistic you are about them, especially during the holiday season.
After all, the memories of the journey and of the imperfect people who help create them—including yourself—are what truly matter. The same truth holds true whether it’s about a present you wrapped or what you see when you gaze into the mirror: it’s what’s inside that counts. You’re only human, after all. If you aim to be the best one you can be instead of the ideal one, you’ll likely find the happiness you seek.
So with the holidays upon us and another new year on the horizon, embrace that thought in your less-than-perfect mind, give your less-than-perfect self a break, and enjoy the holiday season with your less-than-perfect loved ones for all it is worth.