Before I became a psychologist, I thought the holidays were only times of great joy. I looked forward to them with great anticipation, eagerly awaiting all the commotion.
Now, however, I realize that Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a very painful time for so many people. For them, the holidays are a time of increased isolation and despair. As some of us talk about whom we will visit and how we will juggle multiple invitations, others wish they had even one place to go. As some of us complain that our in-laws want to see us, others wish they had in-laws. As some of us complain that our children will visit in-laws, others wish they had children. There is no one single cause of the pain people feel during this time of year. The pain they are in reflects their unfulfilled wishes, their dreams that – due to no fault of their own – cannot be realized, and their hopes that are fading with each passing day.
Given this reality, what can we do to help make this season more joyful for ourselves and for others? I propose that this holiday season we all do our best to turn our burdens into someone else’s joy.
This concept is not intuitive. After all, our burdens, our pains, are not things we tend to think are worth sharing with others. That’s because we see those burdens from our own vantage point; seeing it from someone else’s can make all the difference. Some examples will help:
- If you cannot spend a holiday with someone because you are accepting a different invitation, tell him or her when you will visit and that whenever you are with them, it is a holiday (http://real-matters.com/?p=27).
- If one of your holiday guests is your burden, treat that person as if you have never met and try to get to know them. Perhaps a new relationship will develop as you listen to new stories rather than focusing on the old ones.
- If you have no children, help someone who does. Offer to watch their children while they prepare for the holiday. If you don’t know someone with children, volunteer at a center that will have a holiday party for children in need. Volunteer to bring food to parents whose child is hospitalized.
- If you are overwhelmed with the children you have, ask someone who longs for children, to help you. If you know that you will complain that you have no room in your refrigerator or freezer for your left over food, don’t cook it – donate it to a food bank.
- If you will be alone for the holiday, spend it with someone else who would be alone, but not for your offer to spend it with them.
No matter what your situation is, giving of self will increase your connection to others and connection is the key to joy, not just over the holidays – but any day.