Finally, the holidays are here. December can be the most joyous or stressful time of the year. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and/or Winter Solstice, you may get excited to share your generosity with friends, family, and underserved communities…or you may count the days for the month to end.
Psychologist Anita Sanz says, “depression increases during the holidays, due to the demands, family issues, and being unable to manage expectations.” The busyness of the season – from buying the right gifts, to rushing to complete year-end work demands, to reuniting with family members – may bring up anxiety, depression, loneliness, and exhaustion.
To overcome the holiday blues, neuroscience research shows that increasing positive emotions and practicing loving-kindness consistently reduces negative states and post-traumatic symptoms, while increasing life satisfaction, health, well-being, telomeres (anti-aging biomarkers), and interpersonal relationships.
Give the gift of kindness this holiday by practicing these four simple, mindful strategies with yourself, family, friends, colleagues, and strangers.
- Mind the good. To protect us from any potential life-threatening situations, our brains are wired to look for what’s wrong in our experience or relationships. This is an essential and helpful survival mechanism. However, when it comes to relationships, this negativity bias blinds us from seeing the strengths, gifts, and positive qualities in ourselves and others. Looking for what’s right and harvesting what you’ve learned will help you celebrate each other’s uniqueness.
- Everyone wants to be happy. At the end of the day, everyone wants to be happy and free from challenges and suffering. Think about what you want from other people, such as respect, love, and appreciation. Find ways you can give those qualities to yourself and others. When we are criticizing or judging our choices or actions, it’s difficult to be kind to others. Try prioritizing your self-care needs and put your “oxygen mask on first,” as instructed as a safety precaution during flights. Over time, your heart and relationships will be infused with joy and excitement.
- Random acts of kindness. Have you ever received an unexpected gift or gesture from someone? I remember driving over a bridge in Northern California and a stranger paid for my toll fee. Although years ago, I’m still grateful for this person’s generosity. Find creative ways to randomly express kindness to your neighbors, strangers, or people that support you throughout the year; for instance, your gardener or health practitioner.
- Loving-kindness meditation: A transformative way to cultivate a kind heart is to practice a metta, or loving-kindness, meditation daily for forty days. Loving-kindness is unconditional love you give to someone without expectations.
Gently close your eyes, and sit with a straight, relaxed back and body. Begin breathing in and out from the heart center without controlling the breath. When you’re attuned to the unconditional loving and warm energy in your heart, slowly recite the following phrases four times, with intention and compassion, starting with yourself, followed by a neutral person, a challenging person, and, finally, all living beings.
- To yourself: “May I be happy. May I be free from suffering. May I have peace in my heart.”
- To someone neutral: “May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. May you have peace in your heart.”
- To someone challenging: “May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. May you have peace in your heart.”
- To all beings: “May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings have peace in their hearts.”