This article first appeared in Happify.
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. “It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress. “I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
Who knew these opening lines from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women would ring so true for so many of us almost 200 years after they were written? And who knew that the lessons gently taught through the lives of the four March sisters would hold the test of time? Yet they have, because they address what it is to be human: to compare, to want more, and to pine for pleasure. But also to have a conscience, to make sacrifices, and to have a heart big enough to do so gladly.
This holiday season will be like no other. Many of us won’t be able to afford the things we once did. Or we will want to be more prudent about our expenses. Most of us will be without loved ones, some of whom we get to see only once a year. A friend shared last week that it breaks her heart that her mom will be alone through the holiday season. For the first time at a collective level, we’re having to rethink traditions that ground us, in a world that moves so fast.
I’m finding that, perhaps, the only lasting way we can carry through this time, and the uncertain times ahead, is by cultivating perspective. We cannot find answers when we pigeonhole our view of life to the present moment of our pain, or to the immediate past of what was. If anything, that leads to apathy and numbness. To bring ourselves fully to life, and get creative about what we can make of this season, we need to step farther away. We need to reflect on how we managed challenges before—because we have. We need to read the stories of survival of past generations, and call on their wisdom. It’s there that we’ll find the essential truths that can guide us at this time.
As I’ve been doing my own reflecting, here’s what’s coming up for me: I feel alive when I show up for myself, for those I love, and for the values I care about. Maybe this speaks to you, too, and provides you with insights on how to show up this holiday season.
How Will I Show Up for Myself?
With financial fears and pandemic restrictions, there are so many things we cannot do this year. It’s easy to get caught in a loop of remembrance and regret at what we’ve lost; it’s easier, still, to go down the rabbit hole of negative emotions. After all, the negativity bias is sticky and powerful. But we can override our human wiring by intentionally focusing on joy, and on the little things we can do. Think of what you did every year that created a holiday vibe. Reflect on the things you did during this season as a little child. What can you still do? What can you do now that you never found the time or energy to do before? Shifting your mind from loss to gain, and from “can’t” to “can” is empowering. All it takes is breaking down what was, into its many tiny parts, and putting it back together in a way that’s aligned with what makes you feel alive.
How Will I Show Up for Loved Ones?
Given how busy our lives have become, many of us live with the frustration of not spending enough time with family. The holidays helped us do so. We took a break to put our lives on hold and to come together for each other. Even if we aren’t physically together this year, there’s no reason we can’t take out time for the people we love. We just need to get a little creative! Here are a few generative questions that can help: “How can I make those closest to me feel they matter?” “What will I do to show them I care?” “How will I include them in my celebrations?” Remember, in the past, travel wasn’t as easy as it is now. Yet people found ways to bring their loved ones into their lives. What will you do? Letters to relatives reminiscing about times together? A virtual holiday dinner? A package for mom of all her favorite things?
How Will I Show Up for My Values?
We don’t speak much about human values anymore, even though they used to be part of everyday conversations when we were growing up. The more we’ve put ourselves at the center of our worlds, the more disconnected we’ve become from our humanity. It’s made us less happy, less connected, and lesser versions of ourselves. To connect back to human values, we need to widen our perspective, and to empathize with those who may be suffering alongside us, or more than us. In Little Women, the March girls take their Christmas brunch to a poor family that’s starving. Where can you identify needs right now? Yes, our children have expectations. And yes, we want to reward ourselves for a tough year. But when we make our little sacrifices, we not only feel good, we become more of ourselves.
History is filled with examples of heroes and heroines who rose to the challenges of their times with the best of their imperfect humanity. Now, we’re being called to do so. Not by becoming a martyr. But by recognizing that true joy lies in belonging to something much larger than ourselves.