No matter how you celebrate the holiday season—all-in, all-out, or somewhere in-between—it has the potential to be stressful and demanding. Here are five strategies to help you—and the people around you—be bathed in kindness over the holidays and ready to start a kinder New Year.
1. Remember there’s no one-size-fits-all outlook on the holidays
The season affects each of us differently. Some people start humming carols and looking forward to the holidays right after Halloween. Others start dreading the holidays at about the same time. For some people, the season brings depression, worry, and sadness. If they’ve suffered a loss, the holidays may remind them of what’s missing, or who’s missing. Some people may be far from family or friends and feel left out when they see others deep in revelry. For many, the holidays exacerbate financial strains and the awareness that they are unable to do or have everything the media implies we must.
Think about what others may be feeling and allow them to celebrate (or not) however they prefer.
2. Stop keeping score
I once met a woman who zealously tracked Christmas cards to assure that she didn’t send one to someone who hadn’t sent one to her. She kept a spreadsheet. She even made note of whether senders merely signed their card or included a handwritten note. This transactional attitude toward friends struck me as a bit cold hearted.
Even if you’re not that obsessive, do you fret about whether the gift you give someone will be as expensive, imaginative, or “perfect” as the gift they give you? Or perhaps the opposite: you’ll give your partner the latest high-tech gizmo that busts your budget, and he gives you . . . bubble-bath. Are you keeping track of who baked cookies, hosted dinner, or picked up the tab for coffee? Stop. Just stop. Your brain only has so much bandwidth—don’t use it all up on tallies and resentment. Let go of scorekeeping and allow appreciation, relaxation, and enjoyment to flood your mind. Repeat after me: relationships aren’t competitions.
3. Look for what’s right rather than what’s wrong
Are you always the first to notice the typo in the Christmas letter, the broken ornament on the tree, the lopsided cupcakes? Ask yourself: what do you gain from playing “gotcha”? Similarly, are you frustrated if your own efforts don’t meet your vision of what perfect holiday décor, cuisine, or social events should be? Instead of looking at what didn’t get done and what may not be perfect, practice appreciating what’s right in front of you and who you’re with. Set realistic expectations and have a sense of humor about where even those may fall short. Perfection is the enemy of peace of mind. Which would you prefer to have?
4. Learn to receive graciously
Many of us are world-class givers, but we’re terrible at receiving. We worry that the giver can’t afford it, that we don’t deserve it, or that the gift comes with a catch or obligation. So, we refuse or we resist, thus denying the giver the pleasure of giving. Whether the gift is something material, an offer of assistance, or even a compliment, if your first impulse is to demur or refuse, think about the feelings of the giver and make your acceptance and appreciation your gift to them.
Sometimes, admittedly, we are given a gift we simply don’t like or have no use for, or even one that is—to our mind— hideous. Even then, appreciation for the intent behind the purple and pink papier-mâché elephant is a kindness you can muster. If this is a lover or family member who consistently buys garish or unsuitable gifts for you, after the holidays you can think about how to steer him or her in the right direction next time. A last thought on this subject: be someone who is easily pleased—it’s one of the greatest skills for a happy and kind life.
5. Give yourself the gift of self-care
Whether you love or dread the holiday season, don’t forget to extend extra kindness to yourself. And only you will know what kindness you need most. Maybe it’s a massage, an evening at home with popcorn and a good book, a hike in the woods, or a luxurious bath instead of a rushed shower. Changing your self-talk is also a lasting gift you can offer yourself. If you find you’re saying things about your looks or abilities that you would never say to anyone else, stop immediately. Replace the abuse with a reminder that—like everyone—you’re a work in progress and you’re doing your best. Forgiveness is another great gift to self. Letting go of regrets and self-recriminations make us feel lighter and better able to appreciate all that we have.
No matter how you feel about the holidays, injecting some extra kindness is a great way to make the season joyful and to start a new year on a positive note. The world needs more kindness. Spread what you can.