This article was originally published in the Atlantic

You’ll enjoy the season more if you lower your expectations.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” croons the voice stuck in your head after a few minutes in CVS. “Just like the ones I used to know.” This Christmas carol, like most, is an anthem for mental time travel. Humans have the ability to project ourselves into the future and past, and even to do so simultaneously: We dream about a future Christmas that is like the old days. This time of year, we zigzag between the excitement and anticipation of the next few weeks and the warmth and sentimentality of past occasions.

And in between the past and future? The present, which all too often brings disappointment. If you’ve ever felt let down by Christmas morning or a New Year’s Eve party, you’re not alone. Our brains are well equipped to sabotage our enjoyment of the present holidays, not because the events are necessarily bad, but because reality tends to pale in comparison with our carefully curated memories and aspirations.