The holiday season can be a tricky time of the year. Yes, it’s a season of giving and togetherness, of sharing good times, good food, and gifts with those we care about, and these are all wonderful things. But all this comes at a price. It takes planning, organizing, budgeting, and usually some amount of baking to successfully navigate the holidays. It’s enough to stress out even the most “perfect” Martha Stewarts among us. Even if you don’t observe the holidays, all this is happening around you and usually demands some sort of participation – or worse, an explanation of the intensely personal reasons as to why you don’t want to make merry the same way as everyone else.
Sometimes it seems that all the good will and cheer in the world aren’t enough to balance out the stress involved in shopping on a budget, finding the perfect gift, and braving the crowds of strangers all trying to accomplish their own to-do lists. Factor in current events – like changes to the tax code that nobody seems to fully know or understand, increasing momentum in the Russia investigations, continuing allegations and investigations into sexual misconduct and abuse – and it may seem that no one is going to have a happy holiday season this year.
To be clear, I’m surprised by my own cynicism Just a few days ago I was flying high through clouds of cinnamon-scented air that mysteriously seem to permeate from every retail establishment this time of year. I had a great Thanksgiving, spent with family in another state, and I entered Black Friday with a sense of good will for my fellow man that I often strive for but find difficult to achieve in busy stores with harsh fluorescent lighting.
So, what happened to cause this change? I began to notice how the holiday spirit, the spirit of generosity and all things good, was backfiring and bringing out the worst in people. This is nothing new, as anyone who’s ever worked retail will be quick to tell you, but this year seems to have a different feel to it. I began to wonder if this is the result of the politically divisive climate we’ve lived in for the better part of a year; a constant, subtle influence that tells us to put ourselves and our needs before anyone else’s. This is, in fact, the opposite of the holiday spirit and the source of my holiday cynicism.
I had almost given in to this cynical way of thinking when it occurred to me that this problem is what the holiday spirit is all about. It’s easy to be sweet and kind to those we know and care about, but decidedly more difficult to do so with strangers. To me, the holiday season is about acknowledging and appreciating that we’re all doing the best we can with what we have. It’s about remembering that the shopper who ran over your foot with their cart is a person, just like you, with their own strengths and weaknesses, and putting aside animosity in favor of forgiveness. It’s about wishing good things for others and sharing kindness because this reminds us of how much better the world could be if we set aside our differences and focus on the common good.
If you’re like me and struggling with a cynical holiday disposition, allow me to share a technique that almost always helps: Look for ways to be thankful, then express your gratitude. If an employee helps you find the gift you’re looking for, look them in the eye, smile, and thank them for their help. Unlike money, we all have an infinite supply of kindness at our disposal; and, the more we give away, the more we get back.