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The Holidays

December 12, 2014

As we enter into one of the busiest times of the year it is quite easy to get caught up in the stress and pressure of the season. Our futile attempts to create the “perfect” holiday distracts us from what truly matters and instead compromises our time with activities that are not nearly as important as the people in our lives.

This six week stretch at the end of each year brings waves of love, anxiety, joy, tension, hope, regret, belonging, loneliness and almost every other human emotion you can think of. Because this compressed period of activity runs the gamut of intense feelings, people often go into survival mode instead appreciating what a wonderful time of year it actually is. Unfortunately they allow superficial concerns to interfere with their ability to enjoy the true meaning of the holidays.

This season of celebration is comprised of 3 distinct days each with their own unique qualities. When Thanksgiving arrives we pause to be grateful for all the blessings in our lives. Then as Christmas approaches we concentrate on giving to those we love as well as to those in need. And finally we have the New Year when we feel compelled to make resolutions to improve various aspects of our personal lives. 

These 3 days represent thankfulness, giving and self-improvement, which are all important qualities to a full and meaningful life. But why should we limit them to just 3 days out of 365? What if we each made a continuing effort to do all 3, every day of the year? I think we would be shocked at how much our lives would improve over a span of 12 months. If we focused on being grateful for what was good in our lives instead of dwelling on the negative, our attitudes would dramatically change, which in turn would make us more willing to give to others. And if we truly made positive resolutions and stuck to them our mental and physical health would both improve.

The holidays are the time of year when we traditionally pause for reflection. We can each start by simply being grateful that we are alive and well. Almost all of us have been touched in some way by the loss of dear friends and precious loved ones over the last year. This can be an incredibly difficult time because of the cherished memories we have of those we’ve lost. But we can honor them by embracing the future and living our lives to the fullest.

The holiday season has different meanings for people. For many it is celebration of their religious faith. Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus. For others it is a time to think back on what has occurred in their life during the last 12 months. For some it is the opportunity to look forward with hope to a new year. For most of us it is the chance to spend time with our families and friends, but above all else it’s time for peace and joy. It is a time to acknowledge our shared humanity and to show compassion for everyone.

Although the holidays represent something different to each of us, at the same time there is a commonality that gives them universal appeal. For many of us they provide some of the happiest memories in our lives. From earliest childhood right up to the present we fondly remember the moments of faith, family and friends. But the holidays are also a time when we feel our losses more deeply. We think back on what might have been, the missed opportunities or mistakes that, with the passing of time, we now regret.

In many ways the holidays are a state of mind. Too often we approach them filled with worry and dread. We allow the strain to get to us, and we begin to feel overwhelmed and even despondent. However, if we can take a step back and look beyond our own lives we will see a wonderful opportunity to reach out to others whose problems make our own pale in comparison.

This holiday season try the following experiment.

Each time you are feeling down or stressed, stop that train of thought by immediately doing something considerate or compassionate for someone else. It doesn’t matter how big or small your act of kindness is, and it doesn’t matter if it’s for a friend, an acquaintance or a stranger. If you will make a consistent effort to do this through the holiday season a couple of things will happen. First of all you will end up helping many people. Whether you do something simple that brightens their day or something that impacts them in a more dramatic fashion you will have made life just a little bit better for someone else, and you will have added goodness to a world that so desperately needs it. Secondly, you will be amazed to discover how much time you waste focusing on yourself and your problems. Because we are so preoccupied with our own circumstances, it takes genuine effort for us to stop thinking about ourselves even for a moment. But the wonderful sense of fulfillment you will get from helping others will replace the negative emotions that we all have a habit of clinging to.

If you will make a sincere effort to follow through with this experiment you will discover that the perfect gift does not require cash, checks, credit cards or going farther into debt. It has nothing to do with purchasing presents or buying items out of a sense of obligation or guilt. It’s about caring. It’s about connecting. It’s about compassion.

The greatest gift you can give this holiday season is you.

Your time, your concern and your willingness to help are what really matter to another person. When you give your attention to someone they feel appreciated and important. It is a feeling that can’t be produced with something you buy from a large retail chain. The difference you make through your kindness and thoughtfulness will be remembered far longer than something that is unwrapped and quickly forgotten about.

If we will be honest, we’ll realize that we make this time of year far more complicated than it needs to be. In reality, the solution to our holiday stress is quite simple. We each need to focus more on others by sharing our time, talents and abilities with those who could benefit from them. By giving ourselves, we embody the true meaning of the season.

If we will make that effort we will create beautiful holiday memories that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.