Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

We are at the threshold of the Holiday Season or if the retail world is to be believed we are halfway through it. As a result, I am bracing myself for the onslaught of cynicism that comes along with arrival of the shopping mall Santa.  “Ugh, I just hate this time of year”  “The holidays have become so commercial, its all about money and greed”  “I hate the stress and pressure, why can’t it just be January already”

I have decided that for those folks who feel this way, I am going to provide a how to list to help them actually enjoy the Holiday Season and see it as an opportunity rather than an obligation.  Please feel free to print it out, put it on your refrigerator and reference it often.  Share it with friends, start a revolution, a wave of holiday spirit if you will.

I am going to begin with a couple of simple questions before I move on to the laying out of tangible strategies.  Do you have indoor plumbing?  Access to food, shelter and medicine? The right to vote?  If the answer to these questions is yes, I would suggest a counting of blessings

Has your home been demolished in a tornado, fire or tsunami?  Are you begging for loose change?  Has your heat or electricity been shut off?  If the answer to these questions is no, I would suggest a recount of your blessings and a moment of thanks to the powers that be.

I ask these questions because I have noticed that the nay sayers and holiday haters are rarely folks with any of the a fore  mentioned legitimate reasons to be miserable.  The anti-holiday sentiments have most often been uttered to me in the comfort of a friends warm and lovely living room, or at a social gathering at a nice restaurant or while driving in their well running automobile.  Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that Holiday Spirit like happiness in general is a choice much of the time, and if we are lucky enough to be getting through life with minimal battle wounds, we should make a conscious effort to choose it.

I can hear all you scrooges muttering in response to my theory, “How can I choose spirit? Its not my fault that the retailers, the commercials on TV and all the greed around me just make it impossible.  The crowds are awful, the rudeness is unbearable”  I am throwing the bullshit flag on that argument, there is nothing forcing you to participate or buy into any of that.  If you would like it to be less commercial, less materialistic, less hectic, then make it that way for you and your family.  You want people to stop being rude and impatient? Start with yourself. Probably easier said then done I know, but I am going to help you do all that with concrete strategies you can utilize and share with others.

I will begin with gift giving.  This seems to be a particularly nasty sticking point with those that are anti-holiday.  Prime talking points on this subject include obligation, cost, greed, and shopping crowds.

Begin by tackling your attitude about feeling obligated to buy gifts. Instead of thinking of it as something you are being forced to do, think of it as an opportunity to show the people in your life how loved and appreciated they are.  This is not done through the amount of money spent on the gift but through the thought put into it.  By truly knowing the person and paying attention throughout the year to what they have longed for, cared about or been interested in.  The common response to this argument is that we should be showing our love and appreciation all year long.  Well of course we should, but the truth is WE DON”T!  For those of you who are buying for people you do not love or appreciate but have somehow been pressured or bullied into putting on your list, then STOP.  Really, just stop, no one can force you to do it so don’t.  If there are folks you care about but they stretch your holiday budget past what is ok for you then suggest an experience instead.  Take a moment out of what would have been shopping time and share a peppermint martini or hot chocolate with each other.  Watch Its a Wonderful Life  or Christmas Story or Elf in PJ’s with popcorn. Make it a tradition, smile at each other, be kind.  Kindness is the best gift out there.

Change your attitude about the actual gift buying as well.  It doesn’t have to be a greedy commercialized experience it really doesn’t.  I start my shopping each year by visiting a couple of my favorite websites that specialize in fair trade goods, and global awareness.  I made a decision a few years back to do my best to buy gifts that provide some type of charitable reward.  That way I can feel good about the whole buying process knowing that money I spend is not just about material goods but about helping others less fortunate.  There is the added bonus of shopping from the comfort of my couch, while I sip a holiday beverage.  Two of my favorite websites are http://www.serrv.org  and http://www.thehungersite.greatergood.com.  They offer a huge variety of wonderful things and each and every product is fair trade and helps support a global or local cause.  I have also recently discovered www.bravelets.com which sells bracelets that each support awareness and research for conditions such as Cancer or Autism or Alzheimers.   You can find your own favorite websites by googling fair trade gifts, or gifts that give back.  When you shop at these sites not only are you doing a good deed,  you are also guaranteed a unique and special gift.

When I have exhausted those websites I turn to my local mom and pop shops.  I love to support local business’s and will turn to them next for my holiday needs.  I am sure if you think about it, there are many small store’s in your area that you drive right by on a regular basis without ever thinking about going in.  It is good for our communities to support these hard working folks, so take the extra time and effort to seek them out.

Despite my best effort there are always going to be items I need to turn to the big retailers for and I am sure you will find yourself in that situation at some point.  All is not lost, you can still be a conscientious consumer there as well.  Pay attention to what big name retailers you are giving your money to.  Amazon now has a program where you can buy from them and support a local group at the same time.  I will confess to doing much of my shopping with them recently through their Smile Charity program because I can get what I need while supporting Theatre on Fire, a fantastic fledgling theatre company in Charlestown Ma.  Take the time to see if there are any folks working with amazon that you would like to support.  I also do much of my retail shopping at Target because they donate so much money to Special Education.  So don’t be a sheep, know who you are giving your money to and you can feel a little better about spending it.

While we are on the subject of donating, consider adopting a family to buy for this Christmas.  Nothing lifts the spirit faster than knowing you can make this difficult season easier and more joyful for someone who has less than you.  If you are without the money to do this then donate your time.  Find out what local groups are looking for help servicing the poor during the gift giving season.  I am a huge fan of a local charity in my area called My Brothers Keeper.  They help thousands of families all around me have a joyful holiday.  Some years I have been in a position to buy gifts for their program but even when I had nothing to spare there was a chance to help, I went to their location in Easton Ma and volunteered in the workshop wrapping gifts and putting together packages for needy families.  Take the time to see who in your area is helping out the folks who need it and jump on in to lend a hand.  I promise you it is what holiday spirit is made of.

When it comes to the stress and frenzied pace, my best advice is embrace the things that come along with the season, breathe deeply and often, and refuse to hurry.  Drink eggnog and cocoa and holiday inspired cocktails.  Listen to your favorite holiday music and decorate early.  But decorate with things that are fun and make you happy.  Stop worrying about having a Currier and Ives Christmas card for a house and put a blinking Santa on the lawn if it makes you warm and fuzzy.  In fact let go of what doesn’t make you happy altogether without fear of judgement.  If you hate sending cards, don’t do it.  If baking Christmas cookies makes you want to cry then go to the local bakery.  If you want lasagna for holiday dinner, go for it.  Do what you love, drop what you hate, seriously, it’s your holiday, make it what you want.  Don’t go to the mall if it makes you nuts and if you have to go, laugh about the craziness.

In fact, try smiling at everyone you see all through the holiday season, it is infectious, truly.  And if someone scowls back you can feel good that you are in a better place then grump pants and maybe, just maybe, your smile will make their day.  Even if it doesn’t, you will feel happier simply from the act of smiling, its science folks.  When all else fails and you cannot help that you are stressed out and everything seems to be going wrong, try what my sisters and I have done for years.  We take a moment, embrace our crankiness, yell Merry Christmas Dammit!! and then move on.  It makes us laugh a little and it releases a little tension.  Try it! It works!

Last but not least lets tackle the whole Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas thing head on.  I say if you are wishing someone a happy holiday because there are a whole bunch of holidays in a short amount of time and you would like to include them all, then fantastic, that’s great!  If you are saying it because you feel it is politically correct and you really want to say Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas or Happy Kwanzaa, then screw political correctness and say what you like.  Anyone who is offended by being wished a happy anything is just a big tool and I say they can suck it.

So final thoughts; the holidays are coming, like it or not.  Choose spirit and happiness, embrace the ideals that can make it such a wonderful time of year.   For those of you mourning loved ones during this time, rather than being sad, honor their memory by being a kind and loving person and celebrate them.  There is not a single person who loved you that wants you to miss out on the magic of the holidays in their name.  I will be thinking of each and every special person in my world as I sip my eggnog listening my sweet talented daughter sing carols and while I admire my colored lights and dancing Santa.  And in that moment I will feel grateful.  Happy Holidays!

If you had asked my parents which of their children required the least amount of help for most of our lives, until recently the answer would have been me.  I held down a job from the time I was 12, went to a state school, had what looked like from the outside a successful marriage, lived in the big house on the cul-de-sac and gave birth to two healthy children.  Who could have known that when my life as I knew it blew up four and a half years ago that I would so completely make up for lost time?

It took a special kind of strength to allow myself to be weak and often my parents had to persuade me to let them help. Inventing a clever spin on how the charity was received so that I could find a way to live with it.  I imagined that things would get better when I moved in with the man that I loved, we would share expenses and emotional baggage, and fall asleep together every night knowing we were partners in life.  I was going to pick up some extra classes to teach and hopefully be able to work more hours now that I would not be the only adult at home.  Through it all I held on tight to my positive attitude, reminding myself that the freedom to find joy peace and love was worth the financial struggle.  I loved my job, my children were incredible and I was dating a wonderful guy.  Everything else would fall into place.

I was prepared for the road to get easier because thats what happens when you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, right?  Good Karma will come to those who do good, isn’t that what we are told?  So how was I to explain this past year to myself? My relationship ended the day after we looked at a house together, my ex-husband did not pay his share of my son’s first year of college tuition or any of the related costs, and one of my classes was canceled costing me roughly five grand. Despite working as many as five jobs at a time and trying to rethink everything I spent money on, I existed much of the last twelve months hanging on by my fingernails.  I mean this in a financial sense but also an emotional one.  I have struggled to find meaning in all of it, what could possibly be the upside of such a stripping down of dignity?

The simple answer is the gift of grace.  Who would have known that a willingness to put aside your last drop of pride in order to take care of your children would bring with it a special type of nobility.  When you get to the end of your rope and your strength has been pushed to its limit, you have no choice but to let go and trust the universe to catch you.  There is a strange freedom in knowing you have no options and that the price of dignity is no longer something you can afford.  Its hard to ask for help, for some of us it is crippling.  When it is your only option you are forced to learn the art of receiving gracefully.  If you are wise than you choose to learn about being humble instead of letting it humiliate you.  You embrace the feeling of such complete fragility and store it away so that you can tap back into it when you find yourself in a position to help others.

Like all difficult times, there are important lessons to be learned.  If I can recognize them and internalize them then I can look back on this time in my life as one filled with personal growth rather than pain.  I am learning that it is far more difficult to ask for help than it is to give it.  I have had to ask a wide array of people for a whole spectrum of things, ranging from a shoulder to cry on, to major child care help, to a loan or in some cases a flat out donation.  The range of responses has helped me understand what kind of person I want to be.  Some people have a special gift for giving assistance without shifting the power relationship between you.  Some give but make you pay, not financially but emotionally.  One person told me I should feel bad for asking; it will take years to recover from the mark left by that comment.  There are those who have been unable to help but have so kindly and sincerely expressed a wish that they could.  I am as grateful to those folks as the ones who were able to step up.  I will strive to be there when I am asked for my help in the future, not just with actions, but with kindness and empathy.

I am learning that I am not invincible and that even those who work very hard and try to be good people can sometimes falter.  If I find myself once again in a place of comfort I will look upon those less fortunate and know deep in my soul that what separates me from them is the strength of my safety net and that there but for the grace of god go I.  I am not better or worse than anyone else trying to make their way in this world.  We should all realize this more fully.  Often we are so sure that the reason we are in a better situation than someone else is because we were smarter or worked harder.  The truth is those things matter but they are not always missing when someone is in crisis. It is possible that the person you are judging is working as hard as you but is also the victim of circumstances beyond their control.

My belief that kindness is the only thing that makes this life worth living has been reinforced.  There have been moments when I survived purely because my soul was healed by an act of pure kindness.  There is simply no overstating this truth as far as I am concerned.

I have learned that sometimes in order to truly be strong you must be brave enough and wise enough to be weak.  I have my wonderful parents to thank for that lesson.  In a recent moment of utter despair when I was doing everything I could to keep from asking my mom and dad for one more drop of help, they tag teamed me on the phone.  First my mother, with tears in her voice, explained to me how it would kill her to know that I needed something and didn’t think I could ask, no matter how many times I had asked already.  My dad followed up by wrestling the phone out of her hands and in a shaking voice asked me if I understood that we were a team. He told me that this is what we do, we help each other, we are a team and at the end of the day, we do what needs to be done to make sure that each and everyone of us is ok.  Sometimes it is one persons turn and then later it may be someone else’s, but whoever was falling would be helped up by the rest of us.  In order to be the best mom I can be, I needed to be weak, accept help from the team.  Letting my pride get in the way would have hurt them, and I would rather die then let that happen.

And so finally, I have learned to accept help, with grace, and the new kind of dignity that comes from putting it all on the table for the sake of those who look to you to care for them and keep them safe.  I have learned to express my gratitude and say thank you from deep within my heart and soul.  As I write this, the light at the end of the tunnel is beckoning me and my faith grows that I will come out stronger than ever, but in the meantime, thanks to all of those around me who have linked arms, creating the safety net that has cradled me in my moments of need.  Thank you.

Today is the day before Thanksgiving, and so we are surrounded by reminders to be thankful and aware of our blessings.  Television, newspapers, blogs, and social networks are full of declarations of what we should be grateful for, and yet everywhere I turn I see cranky faces and harried people rushing around to get things done.  That is, until I stopped by to see my godson to wish him a very happy fifth birthday.

Nate Malia is a quirky little fellow, filled with energy, imagination, and a vocabulary that rivals most adults. He is absolutely one of my favorite people on this planet, and his beaming face and pure joy hit me like a tornado when I walked through the door.  I thought to myself, hmmm, if we could all see the world through his lens, perhaps we wouldn’t have to try so hard to be grateful and thankful and filled with joy, it would just be what we were, our constant.  So with that in mind, I have written what I believe Nate innately has on his gratitude list.  Perhaps this five year old has some insight that we can all benefit from.

1. Dry pants- As Nate navigates the perils of potty training, it is easy to see the pure relief and joy when he is clean and dry.  Now I may not have thought this relevant a while back, but I have found that of late a good hearty sneeze is cause for some concern in this department.  I would be lying if I did not say that dry pants at the end of a sneezing fit is reason for celebration on my part.

2. People who are happy to see you- Nate is still at the age where everywhere he goes, people are pretty happy to see him.  He goes to school and is greeted with enthusiasm at the door, he comes home to parents who have missed him, his friends are very excited whenever there is a play date; and at each of these moments his face lights up and his bum does a little happy wiggle.  Now as grown ups, it is rare that someone squeals with delight when they see you, rare, but it does happen sometimes.  Nate has reminded me what that feels like, he has taken to squealing and dancing at the top of the stairs whenever I come over, this is followed by him flinging himself at me and giving me hugs and kisses.  We should all take a moment to recognize and feel good about those moments when our arrival has really made someones day.  I guarantee you there is a friend or relative that would love to see you right now.

3. One or two really good toys- We get obsessed sometimes with having the newest, the latest, the best version of whatever we consider our “toys”, we barely use what we were so enamored with a week ago and we are off to find our next material fix. Nate  is surrounded by toys of all types but he can most often be found with the same two items.  In one hand, taggy; a square of blanket with a number of silky tags sewn around the edges, and  in the other,a small plastic Woody action figure from the movie Toy Story.  The taggy is worn and the action figure is missing part of one leg and one arm. But for Nate this doesn’t detract from their worth; one provides tactile comfort and the other is a beloved friend.  There is something to be said for the pure sentimentality and love that transcends newness or perfection.  Look around your world and enjoy the comfort of something that has sentimental meaning for you, has served you well.   Let that fill the space inside you that is typically reserved for consumerism.

4. A nice bath and clean jammies- When Nate comes running out of the bathroom after his nightly bath, smelling yummy, squeaky clean, in his favorite super hero pj’s, he is about as happy as a person can be.  There is just something magical in warm water, scented soap, fluffy towels and your favorite bedtime apparel.  Why don’t we take the time to do that more often?  So many nights wasted on mindless tv or internet surfing when we could be soothing our souls.

5. A good snack- Nate has not yet developed an unhealthy relationship with food.  To him a good snack is one of the highlights of his day, not because he his feeding his unhappiness or using food as a reward, but simply because it tastes good and he was hungry.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if all of us stopped thinking of food as either our enemy or as a replacement for one emotion or another.  How refreshing to simply enjoy it when it is needed, and to appreciate that we are not going without.

6. Snuggles- When Nate is having a moment where joy does not come as easily, his solution is to have me to lay on the couch and for him to climb up on to my body until he is practically sitting on my shoulder.  He will clutch his taggy with one hand and twirl my hair with his other.  I confess I get as much or more out of these sessions as he does.  That tiny hand playing with my hair is heaven on earth.  Fair warning, I am going to start snuggling a bit more indiscriminately, If you are a friend, you may fall victim.

7. A good nap- Seriously, who isn’t better after a good nap? Nate is aware of their healing properties and I will try to stay aware of that as well. Nap people, nap! And then don’t feel guilty about it, feel grateful that you got a moment to recharge.  The world would be a far better place if we all got a little more rest.

Armed with this new insight, I will spend Thanksgiving with people who are always happy to see me, enjoy delicious food, take a nap, snuggle at least one person if not more, try not to sneeze, and be happy for the things already in my possession. I will end the day with a nice bath and my favorite pajamas.  Happy Thanksgiving!