A Season for Introspection
Homebodies are fond of the phrase “Home is Where the Heart Is”. We usually mean that from the self-centered perspective of how we feel about and at home. We think about the memories of the home we grew up in, of the warmth, comfort and safety of our current home. Further, we think of our home as a reflection of us, in our design and decoration choices, our furniture.
But in this year where so many have been forced to confine ourselves at home for long stretches of weeks or months at a time, some of our traditional nostalgia may have altered, or at least evolved. At its worst, home for some has become a sort of prison, albeit the best kind of prison one could hope for. At the least, spending so much time at home has cause many to first inspect more closely some of the details of their cozy confines – spotting things they like, and things they’re starting to hate and want to change. For many of us who’ve had a surplus of time on our hands, that gaze has ultimately turned inwards, to the innermost sanctum of our home, our hearts and – if you believe in such things – our souls. There too we’ve no doubt found things we like, and things we’ve started to, or long, despised.
The holiday season, for whatever reason, seems to level up our feelings of self-examination. In the Christian tradition, Christmas was an intentional amplifier of such feelings, prodding us to appreciate the sacrifices of others, and to look on those less fortunate with a sympathetic and generous heart.
Finding Your Best Self
What can one do when they spot something in themselves that they don’t like, or when they feel a sense of growing despair that is vaguely connected to the season and the circumstances that we’ve been forced to endure in this strangest of years, but also is something more – a realization of something within us that we’re not happy about?
I’d first like to offer a little general advice, in the spirit of a pick-me-up. Then we can follow up with some concrete suggestions to make others in our community a little more comfortable, a little more loved – and we may find we feel a little of that too in the process!
First, it’s easy to hate on yourself for all kinds of reasons, from terrible deeds you’ve done, to things undone and unsaid that would have helped someone, but you just didn’t get around to it, to minor imperfections that some of us obsess over as if they really mattered.
The problem is, self-loathing leads to nowhere good. If we’ve been drinking a little too much during these lockdown months, silently berating ourselves will only lead to redoubled efforts to drown out the hater within. If we’ve neglected to call someone we love, the shame only makes us avoid contact for longer. The truth is, people tend to take a little too much credit for both their successes and failures. The “self-made” millionaire conveniently forgets all of the lucky moments of opportunity that fell in their lap, and the self-described “loser” is blind to the joy they may have brought to someone’s heart with a small act of kindness.
We are all born with the innate qualities we have, into the circumstances we were born into, and we make the best of what we have. Give yourself a break, and choose to focus on gratitude, and on the little tweaks and actions that can radically improve our quality of life, our relationships, the lives of others, and our feelings about ourselves! Here are a few (7 to be exact) ideas to give this holiday season a special warmth, to touch the hearts of others in a no-hug world, and kindle a positive outlook for ourselves and others in the new year!
Charity Starts at – Homebody!
- Donate Food Items
Some of us may have overdone it in the early days of the pandemic when it came to stocking up on non-perishable food items. American culture has a healthy cohort of doomsday prepping savvy, and while it may have served you well this year, chances are you have an extra few cans of beans or other such staples that you know you won’t get to for years.
Why not check with your local food bank if they have a food pickup service or a drop-off location where you can leave a few things that will leave a warm glow of gratitude in someone’s belly these cold wintry evenings?
- Write thank you letters
There are so many people who clearly deserve some recognition, and some thanks, for their tireless energy and commitment to helping you, your family, or your community. It won’t take long to compile a list of people, some close to you, and some you’ve never met, to whom you could fire off an email or even a traditional written letter (how those are missed!) to express gratitude, and just let them know you see them. It costs little or nothing, and you would be amazed at how impactful it will be – unless you’ve received such a letter yourself, then you know.
- Declutter and Donate
Those hours spent gazing aimlessly around your home during breaks from binge-watching Netflix have surely landed upon some items that, though once prized, have fallen into the seldom-to-never-used category. Maybe you’ve thought about rounding up such items in the past and selling them off for a little extra waffle money, but you never got around to it. Maybe committing to donate the proceeds to charity, or donate the items directly if appropriate, would be the heart-warming motivator you need! Give it a go!
- Volunteer from home
While the holidays can be a time of great joy and love for those lucky enough to have a warm home and loving family, for some they are the time of greatest despair, largely because they are confronted with all of this warm and fuzzy imagery that only reminds them of what they long for. For some things reach a desperate breaking point, where there seems only one way out of suffering. Imagine if the simple act of being there, and listening, and offering hope and kindness, could actually save a life? I don’t imagine there are many more gratifying feelings to be had than that. Check out National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to find crisis centers near you, and see if they could use your help.
There are lots of other ways to help from home too, depending on your skills and life experience – tutoring kids or adults in an area of expertise, or canvassing for your favorite charity, for examples.
- Leave a Gift at the door of someone in need.
This one is more personal, but perhaps no less meaningful for the recipient. Do you know someone who’s been down on their luck, or kicked in the but by some aspect of this year’s crisis? Or someone who has worked themselves to the bone providing essential services? Someone who’s lost a loved one? Order a simple little gift, wrap it with love, and stick a short note on there, and leave it at their door. You will make their day, their week, and spur them on toward next year.
- Fill stockings for the homeless
We’ve all heard people (maybe ourselves) complaining about being forced to lock down at home, and that’s totally understandable. But perhaps this is the season to be grateful for having a home to be shut up in, bored and depressed perhaps, but warm and safe nonetheless. If you live in a city (and there are many) where homelessness is rampant, you may well have wondered whether there’s any solution to the problem. It seems hopeless at times – after all it just seems to keep getting worse, doesn’t it? Well, maybe now’s the perfect time to inject a little hope into a hopeless situation. Those living in the streets are often in desperate need of not only food, but personal care items – toothbrushes, tissues/wipes, gloves, socks, hats, etc. Make it a family project: fill a few stockings together and take them down to a local homeless shelter.
- Teach Your Kids to Love
Finally, pass down the core value of love and kindness to your kids, or those who are influenced by you. Let them know that not only covid is contagious – feelings are too. So spread good ones out, and good ones are more likely to come around.
By way of setting an example of this, if you’ve been prone to express anger on social media, or lash out at those you disagree with, just stop for a minute. Even if you’re anger and indignation are justified, they don’t help. Anger and insults don’t induce people to change their attitudes or behavior – instead they are returned in kind. It’s a useless and destructive cycle. What better time to end that cycle than…now. Happy Holidays, homebodies!