I have a love / humbug relationship with the Christmas holiday season. On the one hand, I love the spirit of giving, the decorations, and the general cheer. I have fond memories of our annual It’s a Wonderful Life family watch party growing up, or of decorating the tree and listening to Bing Crosby sing Christmas songs; and we’ve added new favorites to the list within my own family.
On the other hand, though, I am very easily turned off by the commercial and materialistic dimension of the season, and then I turn cynical. I need the season to be about something more than shopping. And, if I’m honest about what else irks me: Christmas music gets overplayed. I enjoy the music and will joyfully sing along, but not every day, everywhere, for a month.
This year, I am out to preserve my Christmas cheer throughout the whole of the holiday season. I’ve laid out my antidote to encroaching cynicism in a series of daily challenges or exercises. I’d like to invite you to join me, too.
Each challenge doesn’t demand much, and I’ve kept relative introverts like myself in mind (no hugging random strangers, singing carols in public places, etc.). Each challenge shouldn’t cost much to do, either. So…no excuses!
Also, while this challenge is oriented around the Christmas holiday season, the challenges themselves are not particularly religious in nature. I think that you will enjoy this whether you are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, agnostic, atheist, whatever…
Join me! You can print out a calendar with a brief description of each day’s challenge here. And, you can read more about each day below.
More About Each Challenge
Some days have specific challenges, while other days let you pick from 8 different “grab bag” challenges. You can pick whichever you want from the grab bag on those days, and you can repeat a favorite as often as you like. This is a no-stress challenge, so just have fun.
November 18 – 20 – Share this challenge. You can also do this throughout the challenge. Share this with your friends and family; get them in on it. Print out a calendar for your coworkers, share it on Facebook, tell your Mom about it.
November 22 – Make a gratitude list. Well, duh, it’s Thanksgiving.
November 23 – Let someone go in front of you in line. Don’t let Black Friday turn us all into crazed jerk-faces.
November 26 – Reflect on miracles and our connectedness. You can consider miracles in a religious sense, but I also very much mean this in a general sense of wonderous and amazing things. As you surf for deals on Cyber Monday, think about how all of that works for you to use the Internet and stuff to just show up at your door, and how many people we are connected to through that act.
Or, try eating your dinner and thinking about how your food and utensils all came to be there with you. Think about how many different people were involved in making that happen: farmers, grocers, truck drivers, factory workers, mine workers, oil refiners, gas station operators, farm equipment manufacturers, someone at Monsanto (probably at some point), the people thousands of years ago that started domesticating animals and crops. That’s a modern miracle, and it never ceases to make me feel connected.
Or, think about all of the atoms in your food and utensils and think about how they came to sit on your plate — Big Bang to star to supernova to planet, through geological and biological processes — and how so much of it will soon become literally part of you and sustain your life. I could go on, and I have before, but I won’t now…
November 27 – Donate to a cause for those in need. There is no shortage of causes. Pick one. Give what you can.
November 28 – Think about what would really be a great gift for someone. Try to make it happen.
December 3 – Smile, say hello, or wave at a point you usually wouldn’t. Introverts: a small smile (lips must be at least slightly upturned) or a hip-height subtle lifting of the fingers away from your leg counts…baby steps.
December 6 – Think a happy thought. Forgive a minor transgression. If someone cuts you off in traffic today, steals your parking spot, moves your stapler, let it pass and think a happy thought instead.
December 10 – Send loving thoughts to someone that you disagree with. Close your eyes. Think of someone that you disagree with. Picture them in your mind. Imagine sending beams of love towards them; or imagine expanding a giant bubble of love from you to envelop them, too; or think, “just like me, they want to be happy. May they be well and happy.” Whatever works for you, here. You can start small with someone that you have only minor disagreement with. Google “Loving Kindness meditation” for more ideas.
December 11 – Welcome someone’s love into your heart. Someone out there is sending you love – think about it and let it in. If you don’t think that anyone is sending you love, then I am sending love out just for you today.
December 14 – Appreciate the weather. Whatever it is like today — sunny, rainy, snowy, hot, cold, frigid — notice the weather and appreciate something positive about it.
December 15 – Appreciate the decorations. There is something beautiful about the lights of the season, and something lighthearted about those goofy inflatables that are all over, now. Take some time, maybe even take a walk or drive around, and appreciate the decorations that you see.
December 18 – Open the door for somebody (literally or figuratively). On your way in or out of work, a restaurant, a gas station, or your home, just hold the door for someone else. Alternatively, help open up a figurative door for someone by giving them a reference, coaching them for an opportunity, or otherwise helping them in their own path.
December 20 – Give when you otherwise might not. Maybe you gave to the Salvation Army bell ringer on the way in, so you ordinarily wouldn’t on the way out. Maybe it’s the panhandler on the exit ramp, and you think he might buy drugs with it, so you don’t give. Maybe it’s an extra tip at a restaurant, or a charity donation when you’re already feeling tapped out for the season. Whatever it is, go against your instinct and give something today, even something small.
December 23 – Read or watch something inspirational or uplifting. Find a favorite holiday movie, watch a good TED talk, listen to your religious leader, or read an uplifting blog. If you are struggling with this one, check out kindspring.org or dailygood.org — some of my favorite sources for uplifting content.
Grab Bag Challenges
Listen to someone, and genuinely try to understand. This is a great one for holiday events and gatherings where you might encounter some people with differences of opinion. Free yourself from the burden of having to convince someone else of something, just be quiet, and approach the experience with curiosity. Severe introverts: points for TV, radio, or books.
Find something of yours, and give it to someone else. You could pick a favorite book and pass it along to a friend, or randomly and anonymously. You could donate old clothes to a local charity. There are lots of ways to do this, and they all feel great!
Share something uplifting with others. Do you have a favorite quote? Did you just read or watch something that made you feel better about yourself or the world? Share it! Social media is an obvious venue for this, but smaller and subtler ways count, too.
Play a happy song. Share it with others, if possible. I love how music can affect my mood. Some songs just melt stress away and put me in such a positive frame of mind. Find a song like that for you, and play it…or play a dozen of them. And, if you have some friends or family around, share it with them. Double points if you get people dancing…even with a little toe tapping or head bobbing action.
Write someone a nice note or e-mail. Just a few ideas: connect with a friend, remember your grandmother, praise a coworker, or let your child know that you are proud of them.
Thank someone (especially someone who might be underappreciated). A thank you goes a long way, especially to someone that is feeling underappreciated. Look around your work and life, and thank someone. It doesn’t have to be elaborate — Literally, “thank you,” counts — but feel free to go further than that with a note or more detailed explanation of your gratitude.
Share food with someone. Whatever you want to make of this is fine: break off a piece of Kit Kat for a friend, share spaghetti Lady and the Tramp style, invite a friend to lunch, or buy a meal for someone in need.
Have a warm beverage. Share with others. Although the results from a widely reported study about how holding warm beverages improves your mood have not been replicated, I feel like this holds true for me. Warm tea, cocoa, and coffee are integral parts of the winter months for me. Pour yourself a cup and enjoy. Even better if you make or buy a cup for someone else.