December and the holiday season are usually a time for family, friends, gift giving and general excitement for all the things that make this time of year so unique and special. There’s something in the air that tends to make people feel more hopeful or brighter than they do in the other 11 months of the year, and for that reason, aligning yourself in the cheerfulness of the season often seems like a given expectation for this time of year.
There’s no doubt that the holidays bring about a variety of different emotions for people. For one, they can be a time to reflect on past memories with the people you’re close to. For others, they can fulfill a religious purpose. All in all, the holidays are a time that can bring about a variety of different emotions for different people, with not all of them being the most comfortable, especially if these emotions tend to be atypical compared to those of your coworkers, friends and family members.
The holidays become particularly difficult after the loss of a loved one, the changing of one’s faith, or moving away from friends and family. It can be hard to get into the same cheerful or happy mindset when it feels like all the aspects of the holidays that make you want to be happy have been stripped away or have shifted from what you once knew them as.
Even more so, when your religious affiliation doesn’t align with the rest of the general public’s during this time of year, it can be easy to feel excluded or considered “other” among friends and coworkers celebrating. That can really take away from feeling that wonderful feeling that this time of year is supposed to bring.
However, I think that there is a different way to look at things that not a lot of us consider. Your perspective on the holidays has a lot to do with how you allow yourself to feel about them. Beyond the aspects of faith that are the pinnacle to the holidays for so many people, there is also something far greater that also has withstood the test of time in these later months of the year. This is the ability to be compassionate, generous and thoughtful, and, perhaps most importantly, learning to express gratitude. Each of these exists beyond the boundaries of religious affiliation and are part of a moral compass each of us should follow beyond the holiday season. Yet, this time of year is a great time to practice these things, and you might be surprised just how easy it can be.
Practicing gratitude and embracing “The Giving Spirit” is more than just an idea used around the holiday season to characterize purchasing or receiving gifts to and from your loved ones. Practicing gratitude means waking up each day and recognizing where you are, where you are going, what you have, and what others may not. Being thankful today and every day is a great tool for putting some perspective on things in our lives we might otherwise take for granted if we did not take the time to look at it through the lens of practicing thankfulness. Executing this practice doesn’t mean that you have to go out and complete grand acts of kindness or compassion. You can start within your own household, appreciating the little things that often go unnoticed if you don’t look too hard.
The truth is, kindness might be part of some of the religious messages of the holidays, but kindness is something that can be practiced and appreciated no matter your religious affiliation or lack thereof. We, as a society, are given the choice every day to choose our attitude and reaction to the circumstances in our lives. We can respond with jealousy, envy, hatred and callousness, or we can be kind, supportive, appreciative and compassionate instead.
There is no book or teacher that can provide an understanding of the human spirit the way experience and giving love freely can. Take this time of year to remember your compassion instead of shying away from it and remember the real reason for the season.