Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, the TV’s full of adverts for all manner of tat. Social media is heavy with expectation, with plans for elaborate Christmas dinners and lavish gifts. It is also, of course, teaming with one-upmanship, with photos of expensive toys that are this year’s ‘must have’ item, with plans for elaborate ‘Christmas Eve Boxes’ (when did spending a small fortune on a special box for the night before the little smashers get a ton of other boxes become a thing?). Everything is gearing up for the obligatory pile-of-presents-look-how-much-we-love-them Facebook photo late on Christmas Eve.
I’m glad my children are older and are past the idea that the bigger the pile = the more they are loved. This year they have asked for experiences, of things they can do together or we can do as a family. These things don’t cost a fortune, can be spread handily throughout the year, and will give the gift of memories long after Toy of the Year is languishing, broken, in the bottom of the toybox.
There are many positives to the idea of experiences for gifts. We have chosen experiences that support local businesses rather than the multinational chains so we are actively putting back into our local community. Experiences have no plastic packaging that ends up in landfill, don’t exploit workers in other countries, don’t break and don’t make a mess in already full bedrooms. We will make memories, we will talk and laugh and learn more about each other.
It has also meant that we have, essentially, been able to shift the whole focus of Christmas away from the giving of physical gifts, and more to spending time and making plans as a family. This has freed up a lot of time I would have spent stressing about what to buy, when to buy it and where to store it; and I hadn’t really noticed before how anxious the run-up to Christmas had left me, to the point where I was mentally exhausted by the time the day itself arrived.
I’m fighting a virus at the moment that has been causing me considerable fatigue; but thanks to our ‘new look’ Christmas, instead of making myself more ill stressing out about having X, Y and Z ready, I can take valuable time to take things slowly, fight the bug, relax and recover. It was during one of my ‘resting my eyes’ sessions (read: ‘nanna-nap’) that I started mulling over gratitude and how, once you come to a point in your life where you are content with it as it is, that gratitude just grows and grows and – I hope – spreads to others as well as to other areas of your life.
Earlier this year, I had a Eureka moment where I was suddenly overcome, whilst on the Hawthorn Path, with an intense and overwhelming sense of deep contentment and happiness. I realised, in a moment, that my life is one of peace, harmony and love. Yes, of course there will be sadness, and grief, and struggle at times, as befall us all; but that I am exceptionally lucky to have what I do, to be who I am, and to have the people in my life that I do.
My husband and I – maybe now we are married I should just call him by his name – Richard – are not and never have been particularly materialistic. We replace things when they wear out. Some things, like the microwave, we decided we didn’t really need. We have t-shirts that are fifteen years old. A blissful holiday is a fortnight in the tent on a quiet campsite with few facilities with some good places to explore nearby. Although Richard has to fly down south for work fairly regularly these days, we’ve not been on an international flight since 2001. I am grateful that I am this type of person, that I’m not a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses type; that I won’t simply die if I don’t get my foreign beach holiday every year; or long for perfect shoes or expensive gadgets. It just takes so much stress out of our lives, that’s the wonderful thing about contentment.
Social media – particularly Instagram – is currently obsessed with being ‘perfect’ for the festive parties. The perfect figure (‘How many calories are lurking in that canape, you failure of a woman, you?’), the perfect make-up, the perfect dress. Insta is full of women who have used so much make up and filters they look chiselled from stone (why do so many 15 year olds obsess about looking like 26 year olds? It’s just weird). Facebook is full of people fishing for compliments or stressing out because they’ve put on some weight. It’s easy to fall into these traps when you’re surrounded by these impossibly perfect, highly manipulated images. A wee while ago, I would be eating salads and googling diets because a size 16 is deemed unacceptable by so many.
Now, loaded with this virus, I am grateful that I am strong enough to kick it into touch when I have seen it deck so many people. I’m able, and healthy, and can walk for miles and can appreciate the places I wander through. I have so many friends and family fighting with illnesses that mean they can’t do what I have just been blithely taking for granted.
“Enjoy the little things, because one day you might look back and realise they were the big things” – Robert Brault
The list goes on and on, with so many examples. But with gratitude comes peace, and when you suffer from anxiety and depression, peace is a beautiful thing to be treasured. Who could want a better gift than that?
So this year, cut yourself some slack. Look about you with fresh eyes and appreciate what you have now. Relax, and know you’ve done enough.
Give yourself the ultimate gift, the gift of peace.