American artists have painted hundreds of snapshots of the Good Life through the decades. From Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want” to John Holyfield’s “Blessings III”, we see families lovingly sitting down to a plentiful table at the holidays, sharing that special nourishment that comes from fellowship with kin. Yet, this is not a common reality for millions of Americans; family members are too often spread apart, disengaged, or beyond the veil. For those of us facing this reality, the coming holiday season can feel especially imposing, but take heart; this situation also signals our ability to become Angels for those in need.
If you think you’re the only person struggling with loneliness during the holidays, that’s your first mistake. Children, adults, and the elderly are equally affected, and there is simply never enough family love to go around. This makes the holiday season the most important time to mobilize on behalf of friends, family, and strangers alike, and it needn’t cost a great deal of money. The most important gift you can give at the holidays is your time and attention, and this is especially true if your own heart is broken as well.
Get the Gang Together
It’s so difficult to get even a small group of people together, isn’t it? Do you have lifelong friends with busy lives that you hardly ever see? Relatives that have become strangers as the slow march of time pushes you further apart? Chances are good that multiple people in your life also struggle with sadness and depression during the holidays, and you can be the person that reverses this trend for yourself and others.
One good way to get people to come together is with a common purpose that is altruistic in nature. If you haven’t had success meeting friends or family for coffee, coordinating a volunteer effort that appeals to their sense of “Christmas Spirit” could provide the impetus to bring people together. Try to give people a frame of reference for how long the activity will take so they can plan their day accordingly. Local soup kitchens, churches, and shelters can often use volunteers, and this is a fantastic way to bond with those you know and make new friends in the process.
Community bike centers that provide bicycles for children, Toys for Tots or similar organizations that help struggling families provide presents for Christmas, Meals on Wheels for homebound seniors, hospitals, and more can always use volunteers to spread goodwill. If the people you miss haven’t responded to a generic, “Let’s get together sometime”, then you need to set the place and time and get the invite out. Don’t give up if people don’t respond the first time; set the future expectation that you are doing things that they can be part of, and you are bound to get them involved in the future.
Extroverts: Be an Army of One
Even if you’re unable to rally anyone to come with you, bravely venturing into an unknown volunteer opportunity can help you make lasting friendships with kind-hearted, community-minded people. Experiencing the gratitude of a struggling person who felt left behind by society but was warmed by your act of kindness is a life-changing event that can significantly alter your own life and perspective. No matter how old we get, everyone needs the love and encouragement of a parent, and this is something you can provide to strangers in countless volunteer situations.
Children can be especially vulnerable, and for those whose families don’t have many resources, public libraries and community centers can be safe havens where they might temporarily escape an unpleasant home environment. You can volunteer to read stories, make cookies and hot chocolate, coordinate plays or music recitals, or teach children how to do or make something unique.
Our time is valuable beyond measure. Too many people think money is the most valuable resource we have to offer others, but if we never offer money to others, they never reap the benefits and we are branded as “misers”. Yet, the same is true of our time; the more we hoard it to ourselves, the more scrooge-like and unhappy we risk becoming. So, don’t lock yourself away and succumb to sadness at this time of year; look out, see the need in others, and meet it in any way possible. If you need more love and companionship in your life, give it. If you need more friendship in your life, give it. If you need more cheerfulness and laughter in your life, give it.
Introverts: Make a Cheerful Winter Nest
If the thought of crowds or meeting strange people gives you anxiety, there are still important steps to take for your wellbeing. First, make your home as warm and inviting as possible; put energy-efficient warm-toned LED bulbs in all of your lamps and create a comforting ambiance with light to stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder which can compound loneliness and sadness during the winter months. Decorate your home with images and colors that make you happy or fill you with peacefulness, and try cheerful aromas like orange, lemon, and cinnamon.
Then, resolve to curl up with some life-changing books instead of replaying unhealthy thoughts or binge-watching television shows. Don’t go through this season in autopilot-aversion mode, charge into it with empowerment and the will to improve your life.
Seven Important Books to Foster Inner Peace:
The Empowerment Dynamic: The Power of TED, by David Emerald
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
The Greatest Salesman in the World, by Og Mandino (a book of positive daily affirmations)
Sacred Contracts, by Caroline Myss
The Shift: Taking Your Life from Ambition to Meaning, by Dr. Wayne Dyer
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach
Three Important Movies to Change Your Perspective:
The Shack: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2872518/
The Secret: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0846789/
You Are Not Alone
If all else fails and you are in deep emotional trouble, remember that there are people everywhere looking out for you, at all hours of the day and night.
Find an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting: https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/find-local-aa
Find an Al-Anon (support group for family members & friends) Meeting: https://al-anon.org/al-anon-meetings/find-an-al-anon-meeting/
Call a Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255, https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Connect with the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/veterans-crisis-line.asp
Connect with SAMSHA: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline
Sending you love, blessings, and warm wishes this holiday season.