I had a lovely Thanksgiving with my family, especially after I decided I really needed to redo the exercises for myself that I had suggested everyone else do in my last blog. As "Dan in Real Life" might say, it's a good idea to read your own column.....Seriously, though, I'm human, and when I noticed I was grumpy and feeling critical (bracelet flip...), I decided to practice gratitude, and it turned my day around.
We'd had a bit of a family bump regarding Christmas lists, trying to balance the idea of teens having realistic expectations about gifts with the "magic" and spirit of Christmas. I don't know about you all, but the adults in my immediate family (who shall remain nameless....) tend to be a bit conflicted this time of year. We have a nice, healthy dose of social conscience and Protestant Guilt, so we are aware of many of the needs in our society and community, and we are also aware of the unrealistic expectations our culture and media promote regarding Christmas being a sort of magic fix for all things yet unhealed in everyone's life. Try to carry all that along with a spirit of joy, peace, love, and hope. Quite a task. Makes us a bit cranky from time to time.
So, I was thinking--how do I want to spend my holiday season? Mired in guilt? Truthfully, no matter how much I do to help those in need, it won't be enough. Believe me, I know this. I've tried. Hard. I've run myself ragged helping others who really need help. Is that good? Even Jesus said the poor will always be with us. How do I reconcile all this? One idea I have is so impractical that it might just work--follow joy. Here's why.
Not only will the poor always be with us, but so will the stress and hecticness and unrealistic expectations of the holidays, at least in my life for the forseeable future. So what's a well-meaning WASP to do? While I think it's useful and important to wrestle with all the above questions, I think that following joy is crucial. When I am feeling joy, I respond from a place of joy and love, which is in itself a gift--albeit, not necessarily a brightly wrapped one that kids will exclaim over under a tree, but I'm making a bigger point here.
When I focus on making sure I am creating joy in my life, my whole outlook changes. Guilt is overshadowed. Generosity of spirit abounds. Love and joy are free to give--they won't break anyone's budget and they multiply exponentially. And truly, when I think about it, this is really my choice. I am fortunate enough that my basic needs of food, shelter, safety, and belonging are met (see Maslow's hierarchy of needs). I get to choose how to spend some of my mental and emotional energy because I don't have to worry about where I'm getting my next meal, if I'm going to be someone else's meal, or where I'm going to sleep tonight. I have abundant family and friends. So, I choose joy. I choose to embrace the nonsensical contradictions of the season and feel joy anyway. I choose to be unabashedly happy and grateful, and at the same time compassionate in spirit for those less fortunate. I choose to contribute in ways that I can and let go. I choose life. My feeling guilty doesn't serve the world. There's enough guilt and unhealthy reactions to it around to last several lifetimes. I choose to contemplate, cultivate, multiply and embrace the joy.
No nonsense? Nonsense! The more nonsense, the better! Bring it on.