Louis Alloro, M.Ed., MAPP '08, is a cofounder of a 6-month Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology Program, Fellow at the Center for Advancement of Wellbeing at George Mason University, and founder of SOMO Leadership Labs, a community intervention. Web site. Full Bio.
Articles by Louis are here.
Let’s make this December a creative challenge: an opportunity to invent new rituals for being with family and friends.
In the throes of this recession, many of us are strapped for cash. The contagious nature of the mistrust in the markets is making many of us perpetually anxious. With that stress – on top of the stress that comes from finding the perfect gifts – I wonder why depression is at an all time high. What if we consider alternative ways to show the ones we love that we love them this year? That’s what it’s all about, anyway, right?
So with the advent of the holiday season, how do we prepare to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa—holidays that traditionally involve the giving of gifts to the ones we love?
Gifts of Dialogue
It is important to think about our underlying belief systems that hold these gift-giving traditions alive. Conversations about values and strengths can be very generative for groups of people, like families. Peterson and Seligman’s VIA-IS can be a tool to spark such discussion: what strengths do we most call on when giving gifts?
Dawn Cooperrider, Dolem Jen Hetzel Silbert, and Ada Jo Mann recently published a book called Positive Family Dynamics. In it, they argue that “appreciative inquiry questions bring out the best in families” – the cornerstone of society. Some questions we might ask are:
Why do we give gifts?
What do they symbolize?
What do we as a family symbolize?
What do we as a group value?
How can we take what we value and create customs and traditions that are in line with those values? How can we open ourselves to ideas from traditions other than our own – like those from the tradition of positive psychology, for example?
Gifts of Gratitude
One such suggestion comes from Bob Emmon’s research on Gratitude Letters – the gifts that keep on giving. Writing a gratitude letter requires we tap into our hearts to find words that show our love for another person – words that express the strength we see in someone else.
Not a good writer? How about writing a poem? Many of the ones we read in high school, you could have written too. Remember, short lines, and they don’t have to rhyme. It’s about communicating how you feel.
Another version of the gratitude letter can be creating an artistic collage, a CD or playlist to give as gifts to our loved ones. With whatever medium, the way this gift comes full-circle is in how it is presented. Reading the letter aloud to the recipient or listening to the playlist together gives both the giver and receiver moments (past and present) to be thankful for. This is part of what Fred Bryant shows is so important about savoring.
Gifts of Time
Another idea is to give the gift of time. Spending time together—as a family—to elicit authentic positive emotion builds and strengthens what Jonathan Haidt calls “the hive.” Playing games can “broaden and build” collective efficacy and hope—invaluable gifts, especially during this time of despair. There’s also research to show that singing and dancing together has many generative benefits. Anyone up for caroling this year?
Or, perhaps you and your family can give your collective time for a worthy cause. Bridget Grenville-Cleave has written a lovely synopsis of the benefits of giving back. There are plenty of ways to find opportunities in your own back yard. Friends of mine have been volunteering to call bingo at a senior center and leave each week feeling rejuvenated and even elated. They found this opportunity at www.volunteermatch.com.
Thinking Outside the Box
One activity I remember fondly from my childhood was creating a manger for baby Jesus in preparation of Christmas. My mom cut yellow strips of construction paper and laid them next to an empty basket. Each time we did a good deed during the Christmas season, we wrote it on the strip and laid it in the basket. Come Christmas Eve, that basket was full of “hay” and we would read all of the intentional good things we had done that past month to “pay it forward.” I’ll never forget that.
Maybe I’ll suggest my family do that again this year. Of course, it will be more challenging considering we’re all grown and live separately from one another. But I’m sure we can create a virtual manger online somewhere to make this possible. It’s time to think outside the box.
Another trick is in being what Isaac Prilleltensky calls a “gracious host.” We need to invite our families and friends into this possibility of an abundant and stress-free holiday season. Find the people in your spheres of influence who see the value in this opportunity and get them on board right away. How can we use this seemingly “bad” time to find ways to actually contribute to our well-being – ways that spending money can never truly show anyhow?