It’s the holidays, and joy is sprinkled all around like red and gold glitter, and everyone’s running around merry and bright, right? Right, except for those who’ve been accosted by that nasty Slump that lurks in dark corners, trying to steal Christmas.
If Slump catches you
If Slump catches you, you’ll start to feel down. You’ll be really sad in the absence of your departed loved ones. You might decide you really hate shopping. You’ll realize you can’t possibly keep up with the Joneses when it comes to decorating, so you’ll wonder why bother at all? Your tree will be crooked and dropping its needles. Your favorite ornament will drop onto the floor and shatter. Your baking ingredients, still in the grocery bag on the counter, will begin to wonder if you’re ever going to put them to work.
You’ll look in the mirror, and oh, dread: you’ll ask yourself where all those extra pounds came from. You’ll have nothing to wear to the parties. And then, you’ll be cornered at one of these events, in your too-tight jeans, by a drunken idiot. The temperatures will plummet, sleet will bombard you, and the power might even go out. You’ll feel like you’re coming down with something, while the children run around the house like banshees, unless they’re grown up—which means they’ll have little interest in spending time with you at all.
And if you receive one more Christmas letter about how the children of your friends and relatives are saving the world, you will explode. You probably just want to crawl into your shell right about now. Maybe even until the groundhog sees its shadow, in February—at the earliest.
Take heart, you’re not alone.
If Slump doesn’t catch you
On the other hand, if you’re one of the fortunate ones who feel abundantly joyful this holiday season, and who doesn’t get caught by that big bad Slump, then congratulations to you. But don’t start celebrating yet. You’ve got a very important job to do, beyond all your decorations and shopping and baking and entertaining.
It’s up to you to rescue those who have been caught by Slump, just like you had to rescue the prisoners in the children’s backyard game of Kick the Can when you were young. And how you rescue them is by sharing the most important gift of all: a compassionate heart.
The thing about compassion
According to religious scholar Karen Armstrong in Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, Confucius taught the idea of compassion way back when (551-479 BCE, Before the Common Era). He believed that compassion was inseparable from humanity, and that a “truly humane person was consistently oriented toward others.” Scientists have actually, in recent studies, figured out why compassion is part of being human. Biologically speaking, our heart rates slow down, we feel the bonding hormone oxytocin, and feel-good regions of our brains light up when we show compassion to others. So when you show compassion toward someone else, you’re actually giving yourself a gift too.
It’s easy, and it doesn’t cost a cent
You probably already think you’re a compassionate soul. Good for you; you probably are, on the inside. Most of us are. But do you really show it to those in need? During this time that can be so stressful for others, here are three easy ways to give the ultimate gift.
- Be sensitive. (Translation: listen and watch closely. What are others saying? What body language are they using? Are they withdrawn? Fatigued? Morose? When you’re at the next party, consider that this may not be the best time to go on and on about your wonderful life. Give others a chance to be heard.)
- Be flexible. (Translation: be open to ideas from others. While traditions are good, be aware they can also trigger hurt feelings, uncomfortable memories, even grief. Find out how others would like to celebrate and go with the flow. Who knows? You might have fun.)
- Be graciously grateful. (Translation: outwardly express your appreciation for everything and everyone. Whether your gift, your meal, or your entire holiday season measures up to what you’d hoped for isn’t important. Being with someone you care about is. Telling someone you are grateful for them—especially someone who’s being held captive by the Slump—can be healing for both of you. Also, there’s an expression that gratitude is contagious, so you might even be able to help that person begin to feel gratitude, which can be a powerful line of defense against the Slump.)
You might have guessed by now that I’ve been bitten by the Slump. It’s true, I have. But it was a superficial wound I think; at least, it didn’t draw blood, and I think I’ve safely gotten away. And thinking about others with greater sorrows has actually helped me feel better, too.
So I plan to take my own advice. Who knows? Like the notorious Grinch, maybe my heart will grow.