Monday, November 24, 2008

Give Thanks to Yourself

The holidays can be a very stressful time filled with obligations, parties stacked upon parties, holding onto a diet amidst feasting season, etc. If we're not mindful we can easily become overwhelmed in all of this, causing us to miss the holiday spirit of connection and generosity. Sometimes, in the typical ironic fashion, we even feel badly because we are being stressed instead of joyful, leading to more stress. Also ironically, if we do feel joyful and thankful and connected enough, we feel guilty for not doing this all year round. Aaaaahhhhh!

Do your best to avoid this should trap! In the US, this holiday time really kicks off at Thanksgiving, which is a wonderful reminder about all the things for which we are thankful. This year (and every year), take a little extra time to give thanks to yourself.

Here are a few ways to do that:

  1. Make space. Let yourself off the hook with obligations. Do the things that really matter to you. Alice Walker (author of The Color Purple) wrote wonderful advice on this in An Open Letter to Barack Obama. I highly encourage you to read the full letter, and realize that the advice applies to you, too. alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play.... We are used to seeing [people] ... become juiceless and [white-haired]; we notice their [spouses] and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want.

  2. Say 'no' when you want or do not have the energy. A friend of mine keeps the following advice pinned to a cork board:

    "'No' can be a beautiful word, every bit as beautiful as 'yes'.... Whenever we deny our need to say 'no', our self-respect diminishes.... It is not only our right at certain times to say 'no'; it is our deepest responsibility.... For it is a gift to ourselves when we say 'no' to those old habits that dissipate our energy, 'no' to what robs us of our inner joy, 'no' to what distracts us from our purpose....
    And it is a gift to others to say 'no' when their expectations do not ring true for us, for in doing so we free them to discover more fully the truth of their own path." -John Robbins, Ann Mortifee Search of Balance: Discovering Harmony in a Changing World

  3. Be selfish; it's a virtue. I see two ways to look at this as a virtue. The first was described by Ayn Rand in the Virtue of Selfishness, as described by J.R. (see the linked article): "Since a concern with one's own interests is a character trait that, when translated into action, enables one to achieve and guard one's own well-being, it follows that selfishness is a virtue. One must manifest a serious concern for one's own interests if one is to lead a healthy, purposeful, fulfilling life." The second wa ybuilds on that idea. The greatest gift that you can give to the world is a happy you, a you operating from your best, most joyful, most compassionate place. Cherish and nurture yourself. There's no reason to feel guilty about taking care of your owns needs. Remember that if you take care of yourself first, you will be in a better place to pay it forward to the world.

  4. Write yourself a thank you letter. This is a very specific action that you can do for yourself. You can always turn back to this to remind yourself of all of the things that you are doing right, let the guilt drop and just remind yourself of why you appreciate what you're doing. You don't have to wait for Thanksgiving to do this either. Do it whenever you need a pick-me-up. This acts is similar to the power of writing a list of things that you love about yourself as I did earlier this year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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