The Impossible Dream: I Just Want to Make Everyone Happy!

By: Natalie Rice-Thorp, Ph.D. | November 20, 2020

It’s that time of year again wherein we finish off Halloween candy, we take out our sweaters, and we face the inevitable questions about where to celebrate Thanksgiving and the Holidays. These questions challenge us under normal circumstances, but during a pandemic they rise to a whole new level of nerve-wracking. If you find yourself awake in the night wondering how in the world you’ll juggle the preferences of your family, friends, or roommates with coronavirus concerns, you are not alone! Yes, you may be alone in the night, but you are not alone in the big scheme of things. What follows are some tips to ponder while reaching for the impossible dream.

If You Are a People Pleaser

You already know that pleasing everyone is hard. The bad news is your inability to make everyone happy. The good news is that if happiness for all is not possible, then happiness for all is not your goal. You need to repeatedly remind yourself of this for at least the next few months. No sense running your mind in circles desperately trying to find a solution that does not exist. It may also be impossible to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Try applying Radical Acceptance, a technique described in an earlier blog article by Dr. Card Strong. Because this is bigger than you, it does not reflect a lack of kindness or effort on your part.

If You Are a Peacemaker

If you watch your family or friends argue about plans while you try to do what you typically do to help everyone come to a satisfying solution, you probably run into roadblocks. Again, you need to accept that happiness for all is not your goal. Because this is a reflection of life during a pandemic, it is not a reflection of your mediation skills.

If You Crave Order and Efficiency

You know what you want, and you know what others want. You probably have ideas about how to navigate through competing desires. A problem presents when others may not be on board with you. You probably feel stressed with the uncertainty and your inability to move forward to solidify plans. Even if you do make a plan, things may change again before you get to the holiday. Because a pandemic eclipses order and efficiency, this does not represent a failure on your part. Okay, so what do you do?


Accept that this year will not be the same. You will do the best you can. Keep a mantra handy for those challenging moments. Try “happiness for all is not the goal.” Or develop a mantra for achieving a new goal, possibly “get through it without making things worse” or take a tip from a fish and “just keep swimming.” Because flexibility is good for your brain, even if you don’t like it, the experience can make you stronger.

Be Kind to Yourself

Take care of yourself and acknowledge that you and others are doing your best during a very stressful time. Lighten your load whenever possible. If, for example, you do not enjoy baking, take a pass this year on baking things from scratch. Because COVID-19 resulted in so many negative things, the least it can do is excuse us from a few undesirable tasks. You do not need to burn yourself out trying to make holidays the same as they were before. They simply will not be the same as they were before, and you cannot change that as hard as you may try. What you can change is how you talk to yourself and how you treat yourself. Be kind to yourself while doing your best to cope.

Be Present

It is tempting to get lost in thought sometimes, feeling sad about how the holidays will not be the same this year, feeling worried about the future. Try pausing for a while to focus on the moment right now. Try picking up a leaf, a flower, a rock, or a shell. Hold it in your hand and notice what you see, hear, touch, feel. If your mind wanders, keep bringing it back and be present. Practicing mindfulness can give our systems a little break from stress, even if just for a few minutes.

Be Clear

The stakes stack high in these trying times. Decide what comforts you in the face of possible COVID exposure and proceed with that. Honoring pre-COVID agreements such as alternating whose family you travel to for a holiday may prove impossible. Allow yourself to take a pass on that protocol this year if needed. Family and friends may not agree with your decision, but this is not the time for a popularity contest. Clearly say what you will or will not do and repeat as often as necessary. Although you may feel guilty, and people may feel angry at you, this rough time will not last forever, so hang on! State your communications with clarity and consistency if you have a health condition, a new baby, or other factors that make you vulnerable to COVID. A psychologist can help you with strategies and skills if you need tips for communicating effectively.


No matter how the pandemic plays out, time will move forward so move forward with it. These awkward and stressful situations will not last forever. Even as you read this article, time passes, and you continue to move through these challenging times. If we gently allow our dreams to be flexible, we can prevail. Imagine the ocean tide as it moves in and out, and just keep swimming….


Photo by Clint McKoy on Unsplash

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