It’s advent season and all my wonderful writer friends are writing deep posts about spiritual things, and I love reading them. But I’m not going to do that.
I’m going to tell you one practical way that I cultivate gratitude and enjoy December.
I buy my own stocking stuffers and I don’t wait until Christmas morning to use them.
When I was a kid, the best Christmases were when my mom really nailed it with the stocking stuffers. She found small luxuries that made life a little more fun: scented Chapstick, new multi-colored hair bands, hard candies in a pretty tin that I could put in my Hello Kitty jelly purse. This was really awesome when I was a kid, because, you know, I had no money and little control over my life. I was at the mercy of her gift-giving. The best ever was in the sixth grade when she gave me a package of pink Daisy Razors, which was not only a treat because they were so pretty, but because it was also permission to shave my legs.
Well now, I’m a grown woman and I am not at the mercy of anyone's gift-giving and I don’t need permission to do anything. So, when I’m walking through Target and I see a face mask that promises to brighten my face, I buy it. I get peppermint-scented hand-sanitizer for my purse. I buy a $4 tiny, glittery pine tree from Trader Joe’s for my kitchen counter. And last year, I bought a seasonal shampoo and conditioner gift set called “Nordic Berry and Clove Leaf Oil” and I emerged from the shower throughout advent declaring, “My head smells like Christmas!”
I can’t tell you how I overflow with thanksgiving throughout December, having adopted this practice.
Early on in our marriage, I told Jeff that stocking stuffers were very important to me and I gave him some tips about what makes a satisfying stocking-opening experience. He did alright. But it was a lot of pressure on him. And if he didn’t get it right, I felt disappointed, or worse, resentful. So, for a while I gave him a lot of not at-all-subtle tips, which kind of took the fun out of it.
Because I grew up believing that the point of gifts is that you could feel grateful to the person that gave them to you – for knowing you and anticipating your needs – and that set us all up for failure. Now I’d rather feel grateful for my spouse than to him. I’d like him to live under less pressure. Does that make sense to anyone?
Years ago, I learned a saying on my Twelve Step journey that initially really ticked me off: Expectations are premeditated resentments.
This saying was placed in the center of the room, in a support group for women who struggle with codependency, which is basically a boundaries disorder. Codependents over-help others, under-help themselves, and blow up their relationships when suddenly they ask for people to pay them back for all the things they were doing that they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place. Codependents have unrealistic expectations of themselves, others, and the universe.
As a recovered codependent, I now find this slogan an essential holiday tool and the key to gratitude. Because expectations of others is not a safe spiritual practice. In spiritual boundaries teaching, we learn that within our boundaries are our needs and desires. It’s up to us to define what we want and need and seek healthy ways to get those needs met. We speak our expectations to our loved ones rather than requiring them to guess; and we understand that sometimes even those who love us most are unable or unwilling to do what we want. Even in the best-case scenario, human beings may sometimes meet our wants, but only God is guaranteed to meet our needs.
And in the meantime, some of our wants can be met by ourselves. So, when I budget to buy myself a few small pleasures, I’m exercising my mature, adult, spiritual freedom! I’m grateful to God for my sense of smell (Christmas hair!), taste and touch. I’m grateful for eyes to see the beauty of my glittery pine tree. I’m grateful for God’s provision and the incredible privilege to afford small luxuries. And I’m also freeing those around me from the burden of meeting my expectations and the resentment I might feel when they don’t. This, I believe, is a great gift to my loved ones.
So, what small gift can you give yourself this season? I give you permission to meet your own desires. May you overflow with gratitude as a result.
For more tips on a mentally healthy holiday season, download my Self Care Advent Calendar here.