This is a Christmas like no other. Festive face masks and socially distanced Santas are making an appearance alongside the usual jolly holiday paraphernalia. As the year ends, I’ve reviewed my experiences throughout this tumultuous time and begun to think about the lessons to take forward into 2021. My insights are shared below. I have included five prompts to help you thrive in the run-up to Christmas and plan for a brighter New Year.
1. Cultivate the relationships in your life. I’ve reconnected with several distant relatives during the lock-down period. I am enjoying learning about their lives and sharing experiences. Life is busy. It is easy to forget to keep in touch with those who are not so close to you. Lock-down has taught me the value of all human connection not only for support but also the laughter and sense of belonging. This crisis has taught me to slow down, show gratitude and cultivate all the relationships in my life.
Prompt 1. staying connected with others: Try writing a list of people with whom you have lost touch or haven’t connected with recently. Make a phone call or send a handwritten note to find out what is going on in their lives. Most of us love hearing from people we have lost contact with and that is especially true now. It may also encourage them to contact you more, or you could ask if it is okay to have a regular check-in.
2. Small acts of kindness matter. These troubled times have taught me the real value of health and wellbeing, as well as my general appreciation for others. I’ve noticed many kindnesses people have shown. For example, small things like stopping on the opposite side of the street to talk to a stranger, or phoning just for a chat, or offering to buy groceries for those unable to get out. People seem to have slowed down with less rushed conversations and more listening. I hope that this sense of coming together in adversity continues when life eventually gets a reboot.
Prompt 2. spread a little kindness: Christmas is a joyful time but can also be stressful. Act to reduce pressure on yourself. Think about where you could be kinder to yourself. What expectations can you let go of so that you can relax and be okay with whatever happens? What simple kindnesses could you show to others during the festive frazzle?
3. Structure helps make good habits stick. It can be a struggle to introduce new habits. There’s the difficulty of breaking current habits because they become firmly ingrained in the brain. It takes effort to switch behaviour. I’ve discovered a smarter way to introduce new behaviours is habit-stacking. It entails adding further action to an existing routine that you have already established. The habit stacking formula is: After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]. Examples are taking a few minutes to stretch after video calls, or while washing your hands, think about three good things that happen during the day. By linking your new habits to a cycle that already exists in your brain, you make it more likely that you’ll stick to the new behaviour. You can learn more about the methodology in the book by James Clear called Atomic Habits.
Prompt 3. fostering great habits: What could you do differently this Christmas? How could you be different this year to make the holiday more enjoyable? Anticipate the challenges that might crop up for you and others in the coming weeks. What can you do to smooth things over when these arise? What preparations and steps can you take now to make it easier for all involved?
4. Giving feels good. The wonderful thing about giving is that it creates positivity and can boost your sense of wellbeing. This effect is regardless of whether you donate, volunteer or do something simple that is kind and helpful to someone. “Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably,” writes Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness. Giving has also been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others
Prompt 4. offer the gift of time: The most valuable thing you can gift to someone is your time, particularly in an age when technology swamps our attention. Devoting time to others is a gesture that not only makes us feel good but can also make others feel good too.Ask yourself – to whom could I give the powerful gift of presence through listening, appreciation or acceptance?
5. Remember to express gratitude. In the rush of living, we sometimes forget to say “thank you” to all those who contribute to our happiness, health and success. It is easy to fall into the trap of spending much of our time and energy spent pursuing stuff we currently don’t have. Gratitude reverses our priorities to help us appreciate the people in our lives, the things we have and the activities that we do. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s how much the people in our lives mean to us, so spread some happiness where you can.
Prompt 5. cast an appreciative gaze: Write down how much the people you love mean to you and send it out to them. Recall each person and give specifics about how that person helped you during the past year and why you value them. Decide how you wish to share your thoughts – perhaps by post, phone call or in-person (if this is possible for you). Expressing appreciation for someone affirms positive things in your life and theirs. It also helps boost self-esteem to recall how others have cared for you and taken such a supportive interest in your life.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy Healthy and Peaceful New Year.