The holiday season underscores gratitude, service to others, family, friendship, love and generosity every year.
It’s a time when many businesses give bonuses, organize food drives and more, and when people show generosity in their personal lives. But, once the holidays are over, we typically stop these activities and go back to, well, business as usual.
What if, instead, we didn’t just donate to nonprofits or volunteer at a soup kitchen once a year? I think that if we all extended holiday goodwill year-round, life would be better for our communities. Here are four things many of us practice during the holidays that we can all do year-round to exemplify leadership in our communities. Note: I know that not everyone celebrates the same holidays (or even any holidays at all). However, I think the four practices below are things we can all embrace and celebrate.
During the holidays, we tend to reflect on the months prior, thinking about where we are in life and how we’ve treated the people around us.
Sometimes, the reflections bring a smile to our faces. We might recall that wonderful outing to a bookstore we went on with a friend or the praise we received from our manager. But sometimes, when we reflect in our most self-aware state, the realizations are difficult. We might look back and see that we didn’t treat our neighbor right or consistently had a bad attitude at home.
If we reflected year-round instead of mainly during the holidays, we’d be able to better appreciate the things we have in life and course-correct sooner when necessary. We might savor that bookstore outing and praise from our manager more. We might apologize to our neighbor or adjust our attitude at home more quickly.
In fact, according to an article by executive coach Jennifer Porter in the Harvard Business Review, when we reflect, we give our brains “an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations” — and, vitally, “create meaning.” In turn, Porter explains, this “meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions.”
My challenge to myself and you: Set up regular reflection time moving forward. This reflection could be once a week, once a day — any interval that works. We can sit back in a quiet space and honestly think about the good and bad, what we did well and what we could improve.
2. Showing Gratitude
Many of us show gratitude for those in our lives during the holidays.
Showing gratitude helps those on the receiving end, but it also helps us. Research has shown that those who show gratitude boost their health and experience more positive emotions, among other benefits. So, why limit showing our gratitude to just a few weeks a year? We can make showing gratitude in our lives a habit.
There are different types of gratitude and different ways of showing it. Chris Schembra, the author of Gratitude and Pasta: The Secret Sauce for Human Connection, advocates practicing gratitude that’s prosocial, altruistic and empathetic. He points out that empathetic gratitude is one you give “in the language of the recipient,” because if you give gratitude “in a language that’s most convenient to you,” it’s your ego talking.
My challenge to myself and you: Show gratitude regularly this holiday season and beyond. But let’s adopt the right approach when we do so — showing gratitude in the prosocial, altruistic and empathetic way Schembra advocates.
3. Giving Back
Showing gratitude is connected to giving back.
According to research referenced in Psychology Today, “gratitude is part of the psychological foundation that prompts us to ‘give back’ in many ways. It encourages us to return favors to our friends, neighbors and family members. And gratitude inspires us to help others in society as a whole.”
During the holidays, many of us give back. We might donate toys to a children’s hospital, write a check to the local food bank or volunteer at a soup kitchen. However, once the holidays are over and the usual pace of life resumes, we tend to put giving back on the back burner. But, if instead, we continued to give back throughout the year, we could consistently brighten the lives of others and strengthen our communities.
My challenge to myself and you: Give back throughout the year. Remember, giving back isn’t just about donating money or items. We can give back by donating our time and knowledge, too.
4. Making Authentic Connections
The holidays are a great time for us to reconnect with our loved ones — we might spend more time with our spouse, connect with family in another state via Zoom or call up a friend we haven’t spoken to in a while. We might even connect with new people, like the person working at the food bank we donate to or the neighbor who just moved next door.
What’s considered an authentic connection? In Psychology Today, licensed psychotherapist Pam Willsey describes an authentic connection as “a genuine and real connection with someone else in the present moment.” Willsey states that these are the five ingredients you need to start building an authentic connection:
- “Just be”
- “Deeply listen”
- “Listen without motive”
If we strive to make authentic connections with people new and old in our lives throughout the year, we can better cultivate strong relationships. We can be a more active part of the lives of those we care about instead of limiting our conversations to a few times a year. And, over time, we can go beyond surface-level exchanges.
My challenge to myself and you: Reach out to important people in our lives and seek new people to authentically connect with frequently, not just mainly around the holidays.
Reflecting, showing gratitude, giving back and making authentic connections year-round will put us in a healthier mindset, lift up the lives of those around us and positively transform our communities. Before we know it, practicing these four behaviors will be second nature for us, whether it’s the holiday season or not.