Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas, and then the promise of a brand new year, are supposed to be busting with joy and warm fuzzies, hope and optimism, miracles and reconciliations, holy reverence and profound gratitude. But if a lot of folks are honest, this season is the toughest of all. First, because their real lives do not match the greeting card, Hallmark channel movie image. They hear Christmas songs on the radio and lament how their own holidays will never be able to measure up to this ideal, whether it be because of poor healthy, lack of material security, spiritual dryness, or family rupture. Know you are not alone if you feel less than merry and bright this holiday season. Try these ten seemingly simple tips to lift your spirit.
1. Smile at someone
You may be thinking you have nothing to smile about. But the recipient of your smile doesn’t know that, and she could have it just as bad or worse than you. You can do a lot for her blues if you give a smile. Be it stranger, acquaintance, or the family member on the couch next to you, smile. Smile into their eyes. It goes a long way.
2. Talk to a Saint
Not that kind of saint. This kind of saint:
We in the Catholic Church are so blessed, so fortunate, so rich. We have a Communion of Saints, each one with a different gift to give us. Yet so many of us waste these friends and intercessors. Talk to a Saint. Pick a new one, or revive a relationship with an old one. The Holy Saints know all about melancholy and suffering, and they also know great joy. They can help you find the latter in the midst of the former.
3. Focus on a detail
We have SO much to plan and decide during this time of year. How to stretch the shopping dollar, whose family will get our visit this year, or the painful question of if anyone will even invite you. Put all of it aside for a moment. Focus on one detail. A leaf, a snowflake, a Crucifix, someone’s face, a line in a comforting old novel. Really soak in that detail. Feel your identity and appreciation of beauty in the NOW, not the pressure to enjoy yourself or satisfy anyone else’s expectations. Just BE in that moment with that detail and let the time pass.
4. Contemplate Mary’s joy
Most Catholics have meditated many times on Mary’s sorrows. Try to sit quietly, maybe before a favorite image of our Blessed Mother, and soak in the joy she felt carrying her Son. You don’t have to be a mother to do this. You just have to use your knowledge of the divinity of Christ, the amazing heart of Mary, and the miracle that is the center of our faith.
5. Buy or tip it forward
Paying it forward has become a big trend. We’ve all read about the guy who pays for the five coffees behind him in the drive through. This is the perfect time of year to give a little something to a bunch of different folks whom you’d ordinarily ignore. Try to concentrate on the outside, not your own situation. Who is working extremely hard, long hours, in a thankless job? Who is always there for YOU with a smile? Who seems lonely? Who just looks like someone who could use a lift? A bigger tip than usual, a small gift to someone who would NEVER expect it from you, a gift card, a cookie, a coffee, a homemade tschaschke—again, these are all smallish things that go such a long way.
6. Pray in a new position
If you normally pray only in bed at night or at your table for grace, or only at Mass, or only at a certain altar, or only on your knees, try some new physical position from which to pray. You could kneel at the side of your bed like a little boy, like you used to years and years ago. You can get down on the floor, face down, and really prostrate yourself to Jesus. You can raise your arms as high as possible toward Heaven, even dance for joy if you feel called to. Go somewhere different to pray in your home, and you will go somewhere different in your heart and spiritual life as well.
7. Hug someone right now
Hugs are complicated things. When someone is in pain, they need and can benefit from an embrace. That’s scientific fact. Yet if one is shut down and feeling alone, he might resist a hug, and certainly never initiate one. As we said in number 1, give this hug to anyone you think needs it—the friend who is having a hard time, or the friend whose life SEEMS perfect, your priest, your kid, your boss, your cashier. Hugs are almost never rejected. There’s a reason for that.
8. Pray SINCERELY for an enemy
Maybe you don’t have “enemies,” per se, but you certainly have people who have irritated you, with whom you don’t connect, or with whom you’ve had a fight that never quite got resolved satisfactorily. I know you’re thinking of someone right now. Pray, in all full sincerity, for that person’s good. Mean that prayer. Pray with love and good will, not that YOU will feel better about that person or be able to forgive her or tolerate her better, but just for HER. This is not about YOU.
9. Watch a wholesome, old, or funny show or movie
My friends, what passes for entertainment today is pretty much drech. Not only is it full of obscenity, but it’s so DARK and often highlights man’s darkest tendencies, even glorifies them. Even if you LOVE a new show that is not exactly holy, take a break from it for a week and watch something from years past, maybe from your childhood. Watch something silly, wholesome, innocent, even ridiculous. Watch cartoons, or a rerun of a beloved sitcom. Transport yourself to a time in your life when you didn’t have the wounds you have now. If there was never a time like that in your life, then let yourself simply enjoy the lightness and joy of the movie or show. Think about nothing serious or worrying. Give yourself this mental vacation.
10. Go to Mass
You knew I was going to say it. But that’s because it’s like nothing else. There is absolutely no experience that can literally lift your spirit and join it with the Savior’s like the Holy Mass. If you are in a situation right now that prevents you from receiving the Eucharist, or if you just haven’t attended Mass for years due to some reason only you know in your heart, please make this the season that you go again. Just walk in. All are welcome. Jesus is waiting there for you, and He knows what is weighing heavy on your mind. As C.S. Lewis wrote, Jesus knows the broken vehicle you are driving. There is nothing hidden from Him. Don’t walk in to the church feeling ashamed that you don’t have the proper Christmas spirit. Just know that there, at the Mass, is the one place that you are SURE to feel it. Jesus can help you see the real meaning of these holidays–from a supernatural perspective.