Ever since we turned the calendar page to November, we have been hard hit with the spirit of giving, the holiday spirit. This two-month buildup hasn’t always been like this, but more so now in the last decade than ever before. While the “giving” spirit is somewhat drowned out with Black Friday sales that have more to do with purchasing for the buyer’s home than for gift giving, the song remains the same: The holiday spirit is about being kinder, more generous, more caring. But this time of year poses the same conundrum as we look toward the New Year: Why can’t we be better to each other all year long?
As a country, there are plenty of things that divide us: class, education, religion, politics. We draw lines in the sand to show where we stand, purposefully dividing us one from another, eventually isolating each other and focusing solely on our own lives and happiness. But the holiday season changes that. We start looking and caring about each other despite those differences. It seems, though, that with the dawn of the New Year, we forget all that good cheer and perhaps the underlying reason why we start celebrating the Christmas season earlier each year. One might say, we look inward, we become selfish, we forget the concerns of others. But English theologian Richard Whately once said, “A man is called selfish not for pursuing his own good, but for neglecting his neighbor’s.”
While it is not bad to be concerned about one’s own welfare and success, the spirit of giving and bolstering common decency toward one another has a lot of merit. It’s hard to imagine anyone walking away from volunteering or giving to the less fortunate or even just helping an elderly person across the street and saying, “My time could have been better spent on myself.” It’s simply preposterous to think that being unselfish would be regrettable. We should, however, take it a step further.
There is a term being tossed around, mindfulness. It originated in Buddhist thinking as a meditative practice and has now crossed over into the secular world. According to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good, Science of a Meaningful Life, mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them — without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune in to what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. The practice of mental awareness, being present in the moment and accepting oneself has proven to have physical and mental health benefits.
So perhaps this practice of building up to that great day of giving and then quickly relenting with the New Year has more to do with our not being in tune with the sense of joy, gratitude, generosity. If we are acting more mechanical about this time of year, it’s no wonder it slips through our fingers. This holiday season, it’s time to really seek out why we love this time of year, embrace that and then act on it all year long. There is no reason that this feeling and spirit shouldn’t end with the dawn of a new day. Happy holidays to all and thank you for your support all year long!