The holidays can truly be a mess of emotions for me. My father left my mother before I was born, I was abused as a child, I spent many a holiday alone in hospitals and my mother passed away on the day before New Year’s Eve. So the Norman Rockwell picture of people sitting around the tree sip- ping eggnog and singing Christmas carols doesn’t exactly resonate for me.

Each year as the holiday season rolls around, I take a moment to think about what would make me happy during this time. A few years ago, for example, I went to Nicaragua for Thanksgiving. I had a ball making new friends and eating vigorón (a traditional dish made of cabbage and yucca) while most Americans were in a tryptophan coma from chowing down on turkey.

My point: Make the experience yours. You may not take a trip, but you can find a way to celebrate what really excites and inspires you. Listen to the little voice inside you that says, ‘This is what soothes my soul.’