The December holidays are historically a time for family gatherings, giving and gratitude. Surviving the holidays during Covid presents unique challenges and special opportunities to make the season rewarding and memorable.
Pick your battles
While the CDC reminds us to be careful about our physical interactions this year, the political dynamics of 2020 and the debate about the efficacy of science might both be part of the conversation around the eggnog. Psychologists recommend setting boundaries and picking your battles. Just as there is little upside to posting political opinion on social media, avoiding potentially explosive topics can keep the peace. That’s sometimes easier said than done where long-standing family dynamics are in play. However, letting a cutting remark pass is a power tool that can be easy to use. Empathy and active listening are also two effective tactics in any conversation. When the other person feels valued and important, they are likely to reflect those feelings back at you. And it’s always good to have and exit strategy ready to go in the unlikely event that you need to eject.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health posits givers live longer. Helping others lowers stress and giving can be exponentially more beneficial to the giver than it is to the recipient. Think about friends who have lost loved ones, are alone, or depressed and consider how you can reach out. Growing up, students and faculty, unable to be with their families, surrounded our Thanksgiving table. And Christmas morning always included a delivery route to a portfolio of seniors and shut-ins. As a kid, I found this tiring. But the seasoning of age has helped me appreciate the powerful intrinsic return. I remember a memorable lunch with a friend who told me the phone call I made on his birthday was the only contact he had. You never know when a thoughtful act might come at just the right time.
Keep looking forward.
We fill history books with stories of great sacrifice that lead to extraordinary achievement. In every case, perseverance is a key plot point. As bad as the pandemic may seem, it’s another test. To paraphrase Heywood Hale Broun, struggle doesn’t build character. It reveals it. Good things take time. Nothing worth achieving is easy. Those who keep their eyes on the prize inevitably take it home.
Live in the moment.
As I look back over the year, I can recall moments of selfless kindness in the maelstrom of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Opportunities to make a difference exist in every situation. Our job is to seize the day and seek them out. That process can refocus us on what’s really important and give us the strength to keep moving. “Those who have a ‘why’ to live,” wrote psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, “can bear with almost any ‘how’.” If we think about it, 2020 did a lot to help us define our “why”. That, alone, is a gift worth taking with us into the New Year.