I have fond memories of sitting under the Christmas tree guessing my presents, but it was the anticipation of the big day that I found so exciting. I am still seeking that sense of anticipation when I decorate my home, put on festive music, shop for the perfect gift, and celebrate time-honored traditions with friends and family.
But plans have been disrupted. As I grapple with how to face this season, it occurred to me that this time of year is special, not only because of our traditions but because of the intangible gifts we give each other and ourselves that don’t require a trip to the mall or tinsel and bows.
The Gift of Presence
In a 75-year study on adult development, Harvard researchers concluded that people who are more socially connected are happier and healthier. It has also been said that being truly present is the greatest gift we can give. Our need for each other has not diminished. Although we may be restricted from connecting physically in this time of COVID-19, we can rethink how to be present with others.
Whenever we take time to pay attention to another person, we send a message that we care. The key is connecting regularly to someone else whether by phone, Zoom, email, or through handwritten notes and letters. Consider making this year’s holiday letter more personal than an “annual report.”
The Gift of Permission
Nurturing ourselves helps to maintain a healthy balance. Often our lives become so regimented that we have little tolerance for any variation, even though our daily activities may have changed. What if we granted ourselves permission to reframe our lives by taking on a new challenge? One woman secretly dreamed of writing mystery novels before embarking on her career. Not only did she give herself permission to devote time each day to writing but also permission to be satisfied with the result regardless of the outcome.
The Gift of Acceptance
There is much that we can no longer control. Restrictions have been placed on what we can do, where we can go, and even who we can see. Spending our time and energy worrying about what we cannot control not only prevents us from enjoying what we can control but also increases our stress level, which we know negatively affects our health. As Joseph Campbell, the late professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College, once said, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” Even though we do not know the future and cannot alter the present, we can change our attitude and accept today with grace.
The Gift of Giving
So, as we end this year and anticipate a new one, what intangible gifts shall we give? I will give myself the gifts of holiday preparation that are so meaningful, even if I can’t share them, be more intentional in reaching out to others and look forward to the new year with acceptance and hope.
In the words of Maya Angelou, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
Linda Henry writes regularly on topics related to aging, health care, and communication and is the co-author of several books, including Transformational Eldercare from the Inside Out: Strengths-Based Strategies for Caring. She conducts workshops nationally on aging and creating caring work environments. Her volunteer emphasis is age-friendly communities.