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We’re right smack in the midst of holidays that were meant to bring joy and peace, so how is that working for you? If you’re experiencing love and togetherness with people around you, the holidays are working great. You feel bigger and brighter than before. The world looks progressively more beautiful. If you’re feeling exhausted and depleted, depressed and disappointed, something’s wrong.
Who are you pleasing? Often, we think we’re meeting the expectations of friends and family when they’re as miserable and bound by obligation as we are. All the re-gifting and exchanges that happen after Christmas remind us that if all we’re doing is acting in the place of the other person—buying gifts the receiver would’ve bought anyway—where is the empathy? When I catch myself doing that, I feel cold. I’m merely running errands for the other person and paying the bill. The idea of sending a gift from my heart to the heart of another has been lost.
I delight in giving and receiving little personal gifts because they’re sincere attempts to share smiles. Gifts should be tokens of love. Last night while my husband and I were watching a movie on TV, we were frustrated by NUMEROUS repetitions of a commercial about a man who wants his Christmas to last forever because he spends it driving around in his new car—no wife, no kids, no friends, no love, just driving his terribly expensive car. If I had been his wife, I would’ve taken the kids to join our friends and left the selfish jerk to cook his own dinner.
Family dinners that are have-tos aren’t much fun, either. I’ve known people who stress themselves until they’re sick trying to present a perfect meal or party. I don’t want anyone to come to my house who doesn’t want to be there. Although I hope whatever my husband and I serve is delicious, I don’t want the food or decorations or gifts to be so spectacular that people come for them instead of to be with us. If Aunt Floozy thinks we’re odd underachievers, let her take herself to the Bahamas for the holidays. And I’d rather have a quiet dinner at home than spend the day wishing I could disappear at an endless event with relatives who don’t like my family or me.
Many people don’t have an option of getting together with family or friends. They sit staring at sentimental TV movies, feeling sorry for themselves. Hey, there are other people out there. How about taking dinner to a battered women’s shelter or to the families of patients in the local hospital? How about taking little gifts to the homeless or a nursing home? If money’s tight, you can make funny greeting cards to share or simply chat with a lonely neighbor. You’re never alone unless that’s your choice, and if you love yourself, what better company could you have?
As much as I love tradition, we can’t let tradition blind us to activities that would make the world feel more beautiful. Sometimes we need to share with strangers in order to see what we have with fresh eyes. When a new friend told me how beautiful my house is, suddenly the mice in the attic, stains between the window panes, and torn spots on the furniture didn’t seem so important. When we dare to share love, our emotional universe expands.