“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” I find this quote, from Jon Kabat-Zin, professor of medicine and founder of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, so inspiring, especially this time of year. With the holiday season upon us, we tend to get caught up in what seems like the “big” things: shopping, buying and shipping gifts, throwing and attending parties, decorating the house, preparing elaborate meals, sending out cards. But during a time of year that’s so busy that it tends to pass before we even realize it, it’s important to slow down and make a concerted effort to be mindful of all the “little” things going on around us.
There are lots of ways to participate mindfully in the not-so-little things that can make a big difference during the hectic holiday season.
- Take a minute or two in the morning to sit quietly and focus your mind; take a deep, mindful breath before starting your day.
- When you interact with someone, be it with a close friend or a stranger, make eye contact. Ask how their day’s going and listen to their answer.
- Reach out to someone you’ve lost touch with.
- Bundle up and take a quiet walk in the evening. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the season.
- Instead of overindulging, turn your attention to people who go hungry on a regular basis. Consider donating to places like the Idaho Food Bank.
- Use the time and money you would normally spend on cards and gifts to invest in an organization of importance to you. One of mine is One Stone, a nonprofit that makes students better leaders and the world a better place. Thanks to volunteers and donations, we’re able to offer all of our programming, including our tuition-free private school, at no cost.
- Commit a small but powerful random act of kindness
- Leave a flower on a stranger’s windshield.
- Add a few coins to an expired meter or at a vending machine.
- Decorate the sidewalk with colorful chalk.
Several years ago, I started a tradition of mindfulness without even realizing it. I began “taking notes” on the things and moments that occurred with my family around the holidays. I surprised them last year by sharing my notes from December 2010.
All hearts were warmed when I explained my favorite “gift” that year: one of my nephews, now fourteen, asked me for a dollar to give his younger cousin who was crying because he’d lost playing “Left, Right, Center.”
His little sister, who’s now nine, giggled when I explained that in Christmas 2010, her parents got a tree but didn’t decorate it because the year before, in the throes of the terrible twos, she knocked the tree down.
My sister and brother-in-law gushed when they were reminded that their daughter, now eight, signed “I love you” for the first time.
We reminisced about how the kids played a trick on “Captain,” the family patriarch: one distracted him with a question about baseball while another dropped a plastic eye ball in his drink. We laughed and laughed.
How important to have these memories recorded. We had no idea at the time that six years later, when I would share these stories, we would be celebrating our first Christmas without their grandfather. Through these stories, it felt like Captain was still with us.
I imagine my nieces and nephews have long since outgrown the clothes and given away the toys they received that year, but I know that they’ll always have these cherished memories. To think that when I first read through my notes after Christmas that year, I thought they were so boring, I almost threw them out. If you decide to do this activity, it may seem tedious at first, like you’re not really recording anything interesting. But stick with it! You’ll be glad you did (as will your audience) when you share your notes, no matter what they include, years later.
It’s practically impossible not to get caught up in the frenzied pace of the holidays. That said, try to approach the “big” things—shopping, sending packages, mailing cards, and hosting parties—with mindfulness: let others go ahead of you in line, chat with the postal worker, focus on the small, finishing touches as you decorate your home. In between these activities, take a few minutes to record some of the little things and moments happening around you, even if they don’t seem all that important at the time. Years later, when you look back on this time, you’ll appreciate that the little things weren’t so little. They’re what the holidays are meant to be about.
Jane Walther is the infrastructure director at One Stone, an organization that makes students better leaders and the world a better place. She tries to be mindful all year long. In December she’s mindful about people celebrating different traditions and holidays. She chose to write about Christmas because it’s the one she’s most familiar with. Happy Holidays.