Embracing The Seasonal Spirit

Getting into the spirit of the season can sometimes be difficult at the best of times. But throw in stock-market meltdowns, layoffs, reduced bonuses and pay cuts and talk of a Depression and the ho-ho-ho’s can disappear faster than Santa after he’s delivered presents. This is particularly true when the focus of the season is spending—buying presents, hosting parties, giving to charity, purchasing decorations and mailing greeting cards.

Yet, during challenging economic times we are afforded the luxury of asking ourselves what is this season truly about? Is it about the kids needing cell phones and IPods, buying that inflatable Santa for the front lawn to impress the neighbors or making the office party showier than last year’s?

Maybe not. Maybe embracing the season can be simpler than we think. Here are seven tips for getting into the spirit:

1. Keep It Simple

One of the big issues for people at this time of year is debt. It is common for workers to overspend with the promise of future belt tightening in January. Couple this impulse with a reduced paycheck and the New Year becomes a nightmare. Ask yourself, do I really have to spend this money to make the people in my life happy? Yes, everyone loves getting a gift but think of the reality of your situation. There are options to getting into debt. Spend within a budget, tell people you’ll be simplifying this year and reduce expectations or keep the season for the kids and let people know they’re your priority this year.

2. Self Reflect
Take a minute or two to ask: “What is the most important thing about the season to me?” Is it spending time with people you care about? Is it attending religious services”? Is it giving thoughtful gifts or volunteering? Is it eating good food or watching a well-loved seasonal movie with your family? Think about the little things that matter to you personally, or put you into a jolly mood. Once you’ve decided what means the most about the season, go ahead and do it.

3. Watch Out For Expectations
It helps to analyze the messages that bombard you at this time. Whether it comes from TV, other people, the boss or ourselves, we can feel pressure to engage in activities or behaviours that drive the seasonal spirit away. Messages abound that may urge you to engage in excesses, whether overspending, overdrinking or overeating. Overdoing is another danger. Many frazzled parents and workers rushing between social obligations, preparing for the season and meeting work demands find themselves gritting their teeth through the whole season.

At the same time, envy makes the holidays a frenzy of comparing oneself to others and coming up short–my gift isn’t good enough, my home isn’t decorated like Martha Stewart’s, I can’t cook a decent turkey! Keeping up appearances also makes life difficult when we feel compelled to put on a happy face and attend functions we’d rather not sit through. If the event isn’t important to you or someone who matters to you, don’t go. Or don’t stay too long.

4. Enjoy Others’ Enjoyment
Sometimes nothing can put you into the holiday mood better than spending time with or watching someone else having fun. For example, maybe your co-worker decorates her cubicle and obviously enjoys the job. The choir at the mall may sport a particularly energetic and enthusiastic singer or a store clerk is obviously enjoying the job. Taking time to notice other people’s joy can be infectious, as recent studies on happiness show.

5. Gratitude
An inexpensive way to generate good will is to appreciate others’ efforts on your behalf. Notice how often people help you and how much they go out of their way for you. Noticing what others are doing and expressing gratitude is key to getting into the holiday spirit. Slowing down just enough to notice the driver who actually did let you in, the colleague who noticed the job you did or the person who picked your scarf up when you dropped it sounds small but is important.

6. Slow Down
Consciously slow down and breathe. While you are reading this, notice your breath or any sensation of rushing. Consider slowing down while driving, watch out for standing in lines with seething impatience or silently urging the photocopier to produce more quickly. If you have to wait, notice your internal state, breath deeply and slow down. You can’t go anywhere or move things along faster anyway.

7. Rest and Reward Yourself
Find some time to rest, take a nap, sleep in, sit still with a coffee or read. Reward yourself for accomplishing tasks and pat yourself on the back. It’s a time of celebration and recognizing your own efforts now and all year is key to holding onto the holiday spirit.

Finding the holiday spirit and keeping it, in both good and tough economic times is important, but it is especially difficult when jobs and money are scarce. Keeping things simple, unhurried and modest can help make the season merry.

Happy holidays to all.

psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at sunmail@newmangrigg.com

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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