I love the holidays. That is, I love the idea of the holidays. But somehow, the reality has rarely delivered. Disappointments and stress tend to surface, because the actual activities never quite match my rosy predictions.

This “holiday joy deficit” became even more pronounced when my son, who has special needs, became part of the equation. The holidays mean more unstructured time, changing schedules, and the sensory overload of being in crowded and noisy surroundings…features which don’t bring out the best in my son.

In trying to bring some sanity to the holidays, I’ve learned an important lesson about the downside of making expectations. And I have come to see the intrinsic value of appreciating the way things are as opposed to clinging to the way things should be.

When I change my expectations to focusing on the way things are, I can plan more realistically, which means that I don’t have to say yes to every invitation. I can remember to keep things more simple, which means focusing on the low-key things that my son loves, like taking walks to the bookstore, and singing along to his favorite music.

Most importantly when I am appreciating the way things are, I am able to notice the gems that are there, as opposed to focusing on the deficits. I can more easily feel the warmth and joy with which people react to my son. And I can access a sense of gratitude that does a whole lot to remove the “holiday joy deficit.”