For myself, the expectation of Christmas has changed over the years. When I was young, my brothers and I hardly slept. My parents gave up on sleep somewhere between five and six in the morning. Our present opening ritual ran from the youngest to the oldest, each opening their gift, while everyone else looked on and made appreciative noises. The next gift was not opened until the current object of attention had been given its full due. Still, as I participated in our family tradition, the focus was always on my next present and anticipating what it would be. As I have aged, I have shifted to giving – the receiving doesn’t excite me as it once had.
This change over the years has increased my gratitude for Christmas, even though I have received less. I am grateful for is the relationships that I have with my family. Not everyone is blessed enough to be born into a good family, but I was and I appreciate it immensely. Yet, most people have at least one person that they consider to be part of their circle of close family and friends. This is a special time of the year to reconnect and strengthen those bonds – a time unlike any other.
Love and connection are critical elements of having a life of gratitude. These characteristics are essential to being alive. Most, if not all personal development experts put love and connection as important elements of fulfillment and as a key motivational factors. I think one of the reasons for this is that love expands with use and it has an innate ability to attract other virtues to one’s life as well. People who express and demonstrate love also develop greater optimism, joy, enthusiasm, and zest for life. It sharpens the senses and makes people value their life and the lives of the people around them more.
Also I am grateful for the gift giving. As I mentioned before, I no longer look at the season as a time to receive. I don’t say that to receive attention, but more to recognize a change in mindset – I like the feeling of either making or buying a gift that I believe that the other person will enjoy. The price of the gift isn’t the issue either – I recently gave a book on personal development that I had bought second hand – and one that I treasured – as gift. My wish was that they’d get half as much out of it that I had – or more. Their improvement as a person, as great as they already were, was my only goal.
Lastly, I am grateful that Christmas is an excellent time to reflect on the past and to set goals for the upcoming year. This may be because it is naturally a time for introspection and gratitude and that lends itself to review and looking forward to the next twelve months. Many people tend to see the new year as the time to set goals, but new year’s resolutions have gotten a bad reputation. I remember reading a real life anecdote in Reader’s Digest some years ago that hit this home for me. The story told of a regular swimmer at their local YMCA who noticed that there was an increase in the number of people in the pool at the beginning of the year. The individual mentioned this to the lifeguard on duty. The lifeguard said, “These are people who made resolutions to be more active. They’ll be gone in a few weeks. ” A sardonic response to be sure, but it has the ring of truth.
For myself, one of the main reasons I don’t keep to my goals is that they aren’t rooted to solid anchors. Many experts talk about having a strong enough ‘why’ or going through an activity often called ‘the seven levels of why.’ Other people have gotten more out of those exercises than I have – perhaps because I didn’t anchor my why to specific virtues of the heart. After all, they are the motivations that speak most directly to the soul.
An alternative to this technique is something called future planning. I imagine that it is the end of 2020 and I am looking at what I was able to achieve during the course of the year, as well as what I was able to cut from my life. I then figure out how to put into practice the two or three goals that spoke the most to me. This includes the steps I need to take to make each goal a reality. I work out a schedule and include set timers on my phone to go off when I am to actively work on these goals. Even when it comes to eliminating activities, I still set times to engage in them, but I set limits for the duration of the activities, and have them decrease in duration over the course of weeks.
That way, when the Christmas of 2020 rolls around, I’ll have even more to be grateful for and more to celebrate.