I am a passionate believer in the power of gratitude; some of you may have even done my one hour workshop on gratitude with me at your school. Yah! It’s a personal favourite of mine to present (did I cry at your school when I presented this? I bet I did).
When researching the book that workshop was based on, Gratitude: a positive new approach to raising thankful kids my writing partner Vanessa Mickan and I waded through mountains of research by psychologists on gratitude and found benefits that included joy, reduced depression, optimism, richer social interactions, reduced materialism and even physical benefits such as less pain and better sleep. Um…who wouldn’t want these?
So, to Christmas. It can be really easy to feel less than thankful at this time of the year. Maybe you don’t feel your family compares to others. Perhaps you won’t get the gift you really wanted. You may feel lonely and wish you had a romantic partner to snuggle with, or a closer relationship with a bestie. It can all be a complete mind mess – especially this year which has (let’s be honest) been emotionally exhausting!
But trust me on this, you will feel some of the joy associated with the holiday if you chose to focus on being thankful and on giving as well as receiving.
The best bit? You don’t need money to pull this off (giving expensive gifts is one way of showing appreciation, but it is only one of the many languages we can use to demonstrate our love).
Try one, or all, of these ideas:
* Christmas love letters. Write letters of gratitude for the special people in your life explaining to them why they matter to you. If words are not your preferred mode of expression, you could turn your thoughts of thankfulness into a gorgeous art project. Perhaps you could invest in a canvas from an art supply shop, and cover it in images that reflect moments in your life with them that you were grateful to have shared. You don’t even need to be good at drawing; you might like to print special photos and embellish these with your fave quotes that you think might inspire them, or little words and phrases that remind you of them.
• My daughter once made me a “Jar Of Smiles.” She got an old glass jar and filled it with fun pictures of us together, some of those funny lolly teeth, strips of paper with favourite quotes from inspiring women, and little memories she had that she knew would make me happy. I LOVE this gift and it still has pride of place on my dressing table (note to self – never eat those lollies. They are now about 12 years old).
* Give an experience you can share. This year, we have all craved connection. Gift your time and take your loved one out on an adventure with you to an art gallery, the beach, a park. You could fancy this outing invite up with a small gift that works within your outing theme (wrap your invite around some sunblock for a beach day, wrap a picnic rug and tie it with the details for your park adventure, add a cheap paint brush from a discount shop to your art gallery invite etc).
* Don’t give, but take! Write a voucher that offers to take away a task you know your friend / family member hates doing. You could offer to cook a cook a family meal, wash the dog, clean our their wardrobe or bathroom drawer and rearrange it for them (get your Home Edit on!). To make this voucher particularly special, you might even like to print out some suggested recipes you would use, or show them some photos of wardrobe revamps as inspiration!
* When I was a teen it was a common practice to make people you cared for a mixed cassette tape, you could take this idea and give it a modern twist by creating Spotify lists for your loved ones – AND explaining why you’ve picked each song just for them. My daughter Teyah, aged 21, made me this list recently and added the following note:
1. Golden by Harry Styles – this reminds me of your energy / vibe.
2. Modern Love by David Bowie – The first album(?) you owned and our favourite Bowie song.
3. Drinkee by Sofi Tukker – Our pump up jam when we are going out somewhere together.
4. Heart of Glass by Miley Cyrus – Reminds me of listening to Blondie’s Heart of Glass in your car on the way to primary school, but I know you also like Miley’s voice and her cover is awesome.
5. Fast Friends by Paul Dempsey – Reminds me of growing up and listening to Paul Dempsey over the TV speakers as we would get ready for visitors.
6. Mystery of Love by Sufjan Stevens – This song reminds me of listening to music and eating pizza with you late at night when we went to Italy together; Tuscany villa vibes.
I really love the songs she picked! I almost shed a tear at the image she selected for the list as it really embodies all my values (kind heart, fierce mind, brave spirit). I giggled at the fact she called me Dmills (oddly, she rarely calls me Mum). This gift cost her nothing, but it is truly priceless to me.
* Receive with grace. It is truly hard to feel grateful when you are disappointed with a gift as sometimes, gifts can really be disappointing! The other night when out for dinner, the table near us were exchanging Secret Santa gifts and a man was given a whiteboard planner. Maybe he really likes planning and he found that gift amazing, but I would have died a little. I mean to me that seemed so dull. But he smiled and looked thankful. Now I am not advocating you fake your feelings all the time. We need to be authentic and feeling the full spectrum of human emotions is vital. But at Christmas, unless the gift is a passive-aggressive attack on you (e.g: an unsolicited book on dieting) then I reckon we choose to “smile and wave” – smile, say thanks and move on. Rise above crappy gifts. And if you like your gift? Pause before ripping in to the next one to really show it.
I gave my bestie Fran her Christmas gifts last night and she honestly made my heart swell. She held each item and said something she liked about each of them ( “Oh and you know I don’t have a really glamorous beach towel like this! Wow, I am going to look so hot lying on this…”, “This flamingo candle is so fun! I am going to put it right next to my new coffee table. How good will it look in that area?”). See, I thought to myself while watching her, this is why you are mine!
Now that you are older, you will have realised the Christmas magic you felt as a little kid wasn’t generated by Santa and his elves at all, but rather by people who loved you. Now, you get to generate some of that very same magic for the people who are special to you too.
You get to play Santa.
Embrace the opportunity.