If you know me, it is no secret that I love the holidays. I start listening to Christmas music on November 1, the decorations go up soon after, and then it’s all about cherishing every cozy and festive moment. There is something about the season that makes me feel a little more alive, and it’s a feeling that I try to hold on to for the entire year. Last week I was reflecting on what I wanted to focus most on this season, and four things came to mind: being kind, generous, patient, and grateful. Of course, these are four values that I try to hold close all year long, but I think they deserve special attention this time of year.
I recently had to look up the definition of kindness, to make sure I was understanding it correctly – since I talk and write about it a lot. According to Oxford, it is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” To me, kindness means turning towards one another, instead of away. It means stopping to say hello to someone, even if you’re in a rush. It means inviting someone you don’t agree with (politically or otherwise) to your holiday party, knowing that you’ll both be better for it. It takes practice to be kind, but the more we practice, the better we get. And, unsurprisingly, the kinder we are to others, the kinder they’ll be to us. Kindness is about making others feel good, and welcome, and loved. It’s about making people feel like a part of the community, no matter how big or small. It’s about putting others before ourselves. As the great Maya Angelou says, “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
Since generosity came up in the definition of kindness, it must be extra important. Generosity is often thought of in terms of giving money or gifts, which while an important part, is not the only part of generosity that matters. Generosity means giving your time and energy to those around you – whether your family, friends, or the people your favorite nonprofit serves. It means giving $1 every time you pass by a Salvation Army Santa – and sometimes giving $5. It means making your neighbors a holiday treat that they can enjoy with their family. It means donating your money to great nonprofit organizations that are doing incredible work in communities near and far – and not just on Giving Tuesday. It means spending the time to create or buy the perfect present for everyone close to you (and I emphasize create, because gifts don’t need to cost money). This season, try to give every single day – a smile, a donation, a hug, your time, whatever it is. And don’t forget to be generous to yourself – take that extended yoga class, book a massage, create space to meditate, and be okay when you can’t give to others as much as you would like. Generosity of spirit matters most of all, so just give your love to everyone around you.
Ah, patience. How little most of us have, and how much most of us need. I can’t help but share another definition here. According to Dictionary.com, patience is “bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain, etc. with fortitude and calm and without complaint, anger, and the like.” This might not be the most technical definition, but I think it captures it well. Patience is hard, especially around the holidays when we are rushing around trying to get everything done. I’ll offer an example: if you have ever stood in line at the Post Office around the holidays, your patience has been tested. We stand in line, annoyed that it’s taking too long, thinking that the people behind the partition are purposefully trying to go slow and ruin our holiday. Stop and think about that for a minute. Is that really possible? No, probably not. To practice patience, stop and put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment. The postal worker is not trying to ruin your holiday, they are trying to get your packages to loved ones as quickly as they can (and doing the same for millions of others). And think about what it’s like for them, day in and day out, to be shouted at or complained to by person after person after person. I know it would be hard for me to be my energetic and kind self. So this season, when someone takes your parking space at the mall, or goes slowly in the check-out line at the grocery store, or says something you don’t agree with at the Thanksgiving table, take a moment and practice patience. Because we are going to be tested a lot, but the rewards of becoming more patient are immense.
This is gratitude’s week! So many of us will be sitting around a Thanksgiving table with our family or close friends, sharing all of the things we are grateful for out loud. For many, it is a beautiful moment, and I know that when my husband or my mom says they are grateful for me, it will mean a lot. So let’s not only give thanks on Thanksgiving, because we all love the feeling when others tell us they are grateful for us. Before we even get into that, let us not forget how many people in this country will not have a turkey, or a table, or even a roof over their head this Thanksgiving. Acknowledging how much we have, is where gratitude starts. This season, don’t just give thanks at the Thanksgiving table. Instead, write a letter to a friend who means a lot to you, and tell them how much you appreciate them. Have you had a mentor that has influenced you? Thank them for everything they’ve supported you with. Put a note on your colleague’s desk, telling them what you’ve learned from them or been inspired to do because of them. Give thanks, and then give thanks again. Having a gratitude practice is nice – and I do try to think about three things I’m grateful for each night. But let’s go beyond self-reflection, and tell people how grateful we are for them, and why.
So, let us remember this holiday season: be a little kinder, a little more generous, a little more patient, and a little more grateful, each and every day.