Do The Holidays Make You Stressed?
Next week in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday rooted in our agricultural past, when all would gather to give thanks for a good harvest that would see the community through a harsh winter.
I confess that, for all the holiday’s focus on gratitude, I am not a fan of Thanksgiving. When I was younger, I thought Thanksgiving was about two things I thoroughly disliked: football and funerals. Two of my grandparents were buried Thanksgiving week. Then my dad died on Tuesday before Thanksgiving. My baby brother learned just before Thanksgiving that his cancer had returned. Thanksgiving was the first major family event that my wife and I had to face after our daughter died.
On top of that, there’s the societal pressure to always make it “perfect.” A beautiful turkey. A Pinterest-worthy pie. Really?!
I keep a gratitude practice, so it is ironic that on a day set aside for giving thanks, I don’t always feel it. Can you forgive me for feeling a bit sad when this holiday comes around?
Over many years of coaching and conversation, I’ve learned that I’m not alone in feeling stress and overwhelm during the end of year holiday season. It doesn’t help that immediately following Thanksgiving, the US retail mega-machine kicks into overdrive, screaming “buy, give gifts, buy, spend money, buy!” A part of me just says, Ugh!
A friend recently shared a poem that speaks of sharing Smiles. Reading the poem led to deeper reflection on the GIVING part of Thanksgiving, and the question, “besides Smiles, what else is mine to give?”
As we enter a time of year focused on materiality and “stuff,” I invite you to consider how you might wrap and deliver different sorts of “gifts” that will cost nothing, reduce stress, and maybe change your world!
WHAT’S YOURS TO GIVE?
1. Smiles. When you share a smile, it’s a universal language — across cultures, organizational levels, and all demographics. It’s a no cost, mood-shifting, gift that keeps on giving.
2. Appreciation. My wife has a habit of embarrassing people, in a really good way. When she experiences excellent service (in a restaurant or retail store, especially), she will ask the clerk or server to introduce her to the manager. I love to watch a nervous shift manager’s face light up as they realize they are receiving praise, not a complaint; then I watch them hurry away to share the feedback. It takes my wife less than a minute to raise the happiness level of at least three people — herself, the manager, and the person who delivered our service.
3. Helpful Feedback. I’ve learned that most people are starving for feedback for themselves, yet rarely offer it to others because they are afraid of not being liked. Get over yourself! When you muster the courage to offer constructive—and immediate–feedback to others, you both grow stronger.
4. Kindness. Reaching out to support someone else positively affects two people: the person you helped–and you!
5. Compassion. We often try to “fix” people when they show up in a strong emotion. Instead, simply hold the space for someone else’s emotions, whether allowing them to grieve, vent frustration, or celebrate an accomplishment. People just want to feel heard.
6. Time. Everyone is busy these days. When you show up and give of your time, you are a gift.
7. Benefit of the Doubt. In a world grown increasingly polarized, strive to be someone who Assumes Positive Intent when people cross your path. Do you get out of bed each day determined to screw up and irritate others? No? Well, “they” don’t either.
8. Love. For several years of my yoga practice, I often had soreness in my shoulders after a workshop. One day a new instructor suggested, “in every asana (pose) keep your heart open.” In yoga, this means pulling the shoulders down and back, whether you’re on the ground, balancing on one leg, or upside down. I learned to lead with my heart, and all the pain dropped away. I try to approach every interaction from the same place: with an open heart. Try it — it makes a difference!
9. Chocolate. Of course. (Note: this is the only item on my list that will cost money)
10. Compliments. A woman at my church always wears her hair as an elaborate, curled confection. I saw her last week in an unguarded moment with her sleek, grey mane down and simply parted, and I thought she looked quite elegant. I asked, “Can I offer you a compliment?” I saw uncertainty wash across her face, followed by a slow, “…oh-kay.” I love the look in people’s eyes when I tell them I think they look great, or happy, or “that color looks spectacular on you!”
11. A Safe Space. One of my favorite essays on Listening includes this line: “Listen! All I ask is that you listen, not talk or do, just hear me.” It’s a reminder that people don’t need to be “fixed,” for they are not broken. Most people can work through their own issues if they just have space to talk it out. Give the gift of Listening without Speaking.
12. Honesty. Even if it’s not comfortable for you, speak the truth.
13. Respect. From the Latin, re-, ‘back’ + specere, ‘to look’ — it means to look again, to reconsider what you see. Give to others the gift of moving past your assumptions, your first impressions, your biases — and look back at who they really are.
14. Gratitude. Sincere thanks — a gift that’s surprisingly difficult to give. How many times have your offered a “Thank You” and had the other person deflect or give it back, e.g. “oh, it was nothing. No worries. I couldn’t have done it without my team.” Pause, look them in the eye, and repeat what you just said. “I mean it. Thank you.” Help them receive that gift!
15. A Hug. HUG stands for Human Understanding Given, and a perfect hug is one in which you gently embrace another, heart to heart, for a full breath. If you’re in a situation in which touching is not appropriate, a two-handed clasp and face-to-face eye contact can still accomplish a moment of human connection.
16. Advice Without Attachment. Can you do that? Offer an idea, advice, or counsel, to another without pushing them to agree to it? When you give support without requiring the other person to agree with it, you honor their own wisdom to choose what’s best for them.
17. Acceptance. We all love to celebrate our own Uniqueness, right? Yet often when we encounter people who do not conform to our idea of ‘normal,’ our fear response kicks in and we judge. That person, who is proudly gay/gender non-conforming/other religion/different color/blue hair, etc., is just embracing their own uniqueness. Divisive politics sometimes train people to dismiss others as good/bad or right/wrong. Resist that worldview. Accept and allow others to just be who they are. This is one of the greatest givings of all.
18. A Smile, again. Remember that a smile is one of the most contagious things you can give away; people want to catch it from you.
I close with the poem my friend shared with me:
A smile cost nothing, but gives much.
It enriches those who receive, without making poorer those who give.
It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever.
None is so rich or mighty that he can get along without it, and none is so poor but that he can be made rich by it.
A smile creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in business, and is the countersign of friendship.
It brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and is nature’s best antidote for trouble.
Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is of no value to anyone until it is given away.
Some people are too tired to give you a smile.
Give them one of yours, as none needs a smile so much as he who has no more to give.
Thank you to all of my readers, clients, alumni, and tribe members. May you have something in your life for which you can feel grateful, and many opportunities to give to others of your gifts and talents.
Remember: Leadership is not about a title. Anyone can be a leader who gives of themselves to make a better workplace or world.