The holiday season can be stressful, or it can be full of joy.
It's natural that extra commitments, such as parties and gift giving, might create pressure and cause anxiety.
But it's times like these that we have to check our egos and be mindful.
Our egos convince us that there's always something to complain or worry about.
The ego thrives on drama.
"For those for whom you do choose to purchase gifts, try to purchase from small, local, independent artisans, craftsmen and store owners. Your gift gives multiple times when you do, by supporting a community and its members. Your gift is more likely to be unique and meaningful when it has been locally crafted and sold."
Source: Stacey Castor
It repeats woe-is-me stories about ourselves, the world and—in this instance—the holiday season. And if we aren't mindful, we can end up believing every thought that passes through our heads.
In the past, perceived pressure of the holiday season has made me grouchy.
But my mindfulness practice has helped me move past most of that.
This year, I sought out some ideas about ways to give mindfully to get the most joy possible out of sharing the holidays with loved ones.
Here are some tips.
Think about what brings the receiver joy.
That's the first thought Stacey Castor, Ph.D.—a life coach and educator who has years of experience as a psychologist—shared with me when I asked for her thoughts.
"What would bring them joy?" she said via email. "What would add to or enrich their experience? What do they need—validation, time, purpose, rest, help, motivation, health, etc.? And then, how can you assist in that? Gifts do not have to come from Crate and Barrel or Target or Anthropologie."
I've always loved to give experiences, which Castor also mentioned. But giving an experience without thinking about whether the receiver really wants to do it is just as bad as giving a new putter to someone who hates golf.
Once, I thought it'd be nice to give a boyfriend the experience of a cooking class.
"We can cook together and the focus of the class is on meat!" I thought. "He likes meat!"
But would he like being forced to take a class about it? My friend and co-worker Sean Phipps piped in as I was wondering aloud if this would be a good present.
"That's something you'd like more than he'd like," he said.
And I think Sean was right.
While, sure, he likes meat, I should have asked myself if a scheduled, mandated cooking class would bring him joy.
Along those lines, Castor suggested spending time with a person as a gift. And the idea is to think about something they would appreciate, something that would be fun or useful to do together. This requires really thinking about what you know of the person.
"What about offering to spend time with them having tea and conversation, emptying the attic, walking in the park, babysitting, dog walking, or taking a day trip to a museum, art gallery or car show? What about going caroling, ice skating, hiking? Or, best yet, bake cookies and holiday treats to share," she said.
And she also suggested donating to a cause that the person is passionate about. It could be a women's shelter or animal shelter—anything that the person might give to if they had extra money. And it will be meaningful on many levels if you really think about what the person would support.
Remember it's OK to opt out.
There can be pressure to give to co-workers, participate in Secret Santa games, or attend work parties or other seemingly obligatory functions.
But what good is doing it if it makes you unhappy? That dissatisfaction and uneasiness will likely be felt by others, and it can take the fun out of it for everyone. And it's contrary to the point of the season, which is love, gratitude and genuine giving.
"You do not have to participate in the office Secret Santa, every holiday exchange or even any of them," Castor said. "Gently explain that you would rather not do gifts, and if you would like, you may offer to bring food, drink, music or treats to the occasion. Opting out does not make you a Scrooge. It means you are mindfully choosing how to celebrate. You have that right."
I like Castor's use of the word "gently" here. We can be mindful of how we communicate so we don't inadvertently hurt others.
Give to strangers.
After the divisive presidential election, I read several articles and social media posts about how the country can get back to a place of unity, and one idea stuck out. Essentially, it's to refocus on common courtesy and kindness.
I'm sure most of us have walked down the street and avoided eye contact with everyone we passed. We've all probably been hastier during everyday transactions than necessary.
Recently, I've tried little things like making eye contact and smiling at strangers I pass on the street, stopping to hold a door for someone and say a kind word, asking cashiers or people in the elevator how their days are going, telling a stranger that I like their outfit.
Now, I'm an introvert, so it's not like I want to have long conversations with every person who gets near me, but there are small things we can do to spread joy that doesn't require more than being mindful of our behavior and then being a little friendlier than usual.
You never know when a kind word, gesture or smile might make someone's day.
Don't forget yourself.
Part of mindfulness involves self-compassion.
But when I say "don't forget yourself," I don't mean to spend your holiday budget buying yourself gifts.
I mean to give yourself a break when you need it. Kindly say no if the thought of going to an event every night is burning you out.
Take time to do what brings you joy and that will help you spread it throughout your circles.
May this season bring you more contentment, love and joy than ever before.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.