The holiday season is a time for joy, compassion, generosity, friends, and family… really all of the things we wish we had more of throughout the year. And yet, for many of us, the holiday season is also a time of stress, anxiety, and general busy-ness. Between traveling, cooking, decorating, and buying/making presents, it’s easy to get lost in our striving to check off the next thing on the to-do list, completely losing sight of what’s happening in the present moment. When this is taken to an extreme, we may end up spending more time wishing the holidays were over than enjoying the aspects of them that we value.
Of course, we cannot make the frustrating aspects of the holidays go away. Nor can we force ourselves to have different feelings in response. But even in the midst of whatever difficult experiences may come, we can remain open to how multifaceted and complex our lives are in any given moment, and that just because the object of our attention in this moment feels “bad,” that doesn’t mean that everything else needs to feel “bad” as well.
A perfect way to practice this is with mindful shopping. Putting aside any misgivings about the degree to which consumerism and materialism have come to dominate the holiday season, gift-giving can still be a meaningful act that helps to nurture our relationships and bring joy to others. However, many of us find ourselves stressed out at the prospect of making sure we get the “perfect” gift for everyone on our list (all too often at the last minute). If the prospect of feeling overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping resonates with you, then when you go, see if you can bring along an intention to be mindful of the joy of gift-giving.
When you have a gift in your hand, pause for a moment and take 3 deep breaths. On the first breath, think of the person for whom the gift is intended. Remember that they are not just an item on a check list, but a whole person who is special to you. On the second breath, reflect on the act of giving. Regardless of what the gift is or who the gift is for, remember that the act of giving can make someone feel special and strengthening your relationship. Finally, on the third breath, bring your attention back to yourself. Be aware of your body, and if you notice tension, see if you can let it go. Be aware of your thoughts, and if you’re wrapped up in planning out all the things you have to do in the coming hours or days, see if you can let that go as well. Be aware of your feelings, and if you find anxiety or frustration, acknowledge that your stress is real and legitimate while also reminding yourself that, in this moment, the only thing you’re doing is putting kindness and compassion into action for someone you care about. Allow this simple mindfulness practice to broaden the scope of your awareness to include all the things about the holiday season that you treasure. As you’re getting gifts for everyone else, come back again and again to the present moment and give yourself the gift of mindful shopping.
Tim Pineau, Ph.D.