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Festive holiday wreathAs this is the holiday season, I gave some thought as to what might be an appropriate post for “The Healing Project.”  While for many people, this is a joyous time of year, for countless others, it’s a time of stress and despair.

As I am not a particularly religious person (I always call myself “spiritual but not religious”), I have had to give some consideration as to what this time of year represents to me.  In this post, I share some of my personal insights on Christmas and the holiday season and what I consider to be the greatest lesson for this time of year.

It’s the Holidays – Time to Buy!

As Christmas approaches, we start to see the holiday decorations in the stores and television and newspaper ads for gift suggestions and sales.  We are told to show our love for those in our lives by buying them the “perfect gift,” often at a premium price.  Since many people are already strapped for cash in the midst of the recession, the stress induced by the pressure to buy is higher than ever.  We wrestle with questions of who to buy for, what to buy and how much to spend.

We rush out to crowded shopping malls and comb the packed aisles and racks in search of a gift which will either serve to express our love or fulfill an obligation.  Most of us don’t stop to wonder, “Is this what Christmas is all about?”  Religious or not, we can probably all agree that Christmas has been distilled down to a shopping  and buying related event in this country for many people.   If we think about it, we may consider it a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless.

No Gifts – Bah Humbug?

In my family and circle of friends, there isn’t much gift-giving that happens anymore.  This started a few years ago with one family member opting out of giving gifts, and like a domino effect, virtually everyone else jumped on the “no gifts” bandwagon.  I now only buy gifts for a few people, although I enjoy spending time around the holidays with a number of others.  I consider it a win-win proposition, as I experience much less stress this time of year yet I still get to enjoy being around the key people in my life. However, without the hubbub of purchasing, wrapping, and sending gifts, I’ve had to give some introspection to the topic of what Christmas means to me.  More on that topic later in this post…

A Thanksgiving “About Face”

On the other hand, for many years, I dreaded Thanksgiving.  As someone with a long history of eating disorders, I didn’t like the association this holiday had with overindulging in fatty food.  I considered Thanksgiving to be a day when I would either have to veer off my Spartan eating plan or be faced with a barrage of questions as to why I wasn’t stuffing my face like everyone else.

I have since changed my perspective on Thanksgiving dramatically and now consider it to be a more authentic occasion than Christmas.  After all, the purpose of Thanksgiving is to simply reflect upon the blessings in your life and express gratitude for all that you’ve been blessed with.  If a person is religious or spiritual, showing appreciation toward God for what he has given you is a part of the occasion, but it also includes the expression of thanks to those in your life who have shown you kindness, respect, and love.

A Beautiful Thanksgiving Gesture…

I received a very touching letter (handwritten at that!) from a friend this Thanksgiving.  In this letter, my friend simply expressed her sincere and heartfelt appreciation for my friendship.  It wasn’t a long letter; in fact, it probably took her less than thirty minutes to write, address, and mail.  Yet this letter is one that I still have on my desk so I can read it every now and then, and it continues to bring tears to my eyes.  It feels so good to know that my presence in this person’s life is meaningful.  This friend doesn’t buy me Christmas presents, but I don’t care.   Her letter meant more to me than any Christmas present ever could.

The True Meaning of the Holidays

I shared the story above because I have decided that the true meaning of the holiday season for me is the message which Thanksgiving represents, gratitude and appreciation.  I’ve decided to not just take one day to reflect upon the blessings in my life, but to consider the true gifts that I’ve been given throughout the entire holiday season (Thanksgiving through New Year’s – and hopefully beyond)!   I believe that most of us don’t take enough time to pause and express thanks for the bounty that exists in our lives.  If we think about it, the majority of us have more blessings in our lives than curses.

The Glass is Half Full

I’ve decided that I’m going to adopt a “glass half full” attitude toward life.  It really is true that whatever it is you are looking for, you are sure to find it.  If you search for what’s missing in your life, a list of the things you lack will be easy to compile.  However, if you take a moment to reflect upon what’s present, you’ll create an even longer list AND you’ll feel much better for it.

Don’t Wait to Appreciate Your Life!

I don’t want to wait until I receive a dire diagnosis or lose someone dear to me to count my blessings.  I especially don’t want to list my blessings in hindsight.  I want to enjoy them in the moment, where they exist each and every day.  So instead of lamenting my lack of significant income, I am grateful for the freedom I have to pursue my interests and passions and to be able to spend the majority of my days doing what I choose to do.  And instead of cursing the wrinkles and gray hairs which now mark my middle-aged visage, I am happy for the wisdom which I’ve amassed through spending 44 years on this planet.

I will not take for granted that I will be blessed with another 44 years or more, as that may not be the case.  The countless tragic stories we hear on the news and experience in our personal circles make it all too clear that we cannot control how much time we have.  In a flash, this miracle of life can be taken away from us.

Fear Not, My Friends…

The uncertainties of life do not have to make us sad or afraid.  If we live in the moment, we can experience joy and gratitude in every breath and in each blessed day.  I am so happy to be alive and I am so grateful for my life, flaws and all!  I appreciate the blessings which I have been given and I vow to carry that appreciation with me as I move forward in life.  As this holiday season progresses, I will strive to make every day Thanksgiving.

Closing Quotes on Appreciation

I close with a few quotes which I feel punctuate my message well:

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.” – Hilary Cooper

When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.” – Anthony Robbins

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.”  – Meister Eckhart

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” – Epictetus

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