The holiday season can be one of belonging. But it can also be a season of just longing. While many people have an opportunity to spend time with family, and experience love and warmth, there are others who only long to belong. Those who live alone feel especially forgotten when they know that the rest of the world is celebrating the joy of love. Isolation is such a problem that the United Kingdom recently appointed a minister in charge of loneliness. The UK is not alone. This is a universal problem, especially among the elderly.
For those of us who are blessed with a loving circle of family and friends, there are some things we can do to maximize the season for our well-being—it can be as simple as giving someone a hug or listening.
Give your undivided attention
Spend some time alone with each one of your kids, aunts, and cousins. Show interest in their work. Ask them open-ended questions. Listen non-judgmentally. Make them feel valued. You will make them feel appreciated, and your own well-being will increase as a result. Ask the elderly in your family about their lives. Listen to their stories. Relish the opportunity to be together with people who love you and don’t take the holidays as routine.
Research shows that adding value to other people is one of the most effective ways to add value to yourself. Giving is really receiving.
If your family reunions are marked by acrimony, there are ways to avoid rehashing old disputes. First, prepare. If you are drawn into conflicts with your siblings or in-laws, ask yourself if it is really worth it. Remember, the fact that someone is tempting you to revisit old disagreements does not mean that you have to take the bait.
Pro tip: Identify what hot buttons are likely to be pushed during family time and make a plan of action.
Be the adult in the room and opt not to engage in arguments. You have the option to just pass on the opportunity to have a fight with your sibling. Use this opportunity to forgive. Express gratitude for what others have done for you. Both forgiveness and gratitude are happiness boosters.
Bursting at the seam
Conflicts can sour relationships, for sure. But there is one more thing that can make your holidays unpleasant: food. Most people experience some sort of indigestion during the holidays.
Prepare for that, too, by following the Okinawan diet: Eat only until you are 80 percent full. Remember, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. You will thank me for it.
Pay it forward
You can add value to the community by reaching out to those who are not surrounded with family or friends. Think about your co-worker who may be new to the city, or about a friend who may have lost their spouse and may be alone during the holiday season. Extend an invitation. Make them feel welcome at your home. You will alleviate their suffering, and you will feel very good about yourself. Research shows that helping others in the community improves your psychological and physical well-being.
We all want to belong, especially during the holiday season. You have the power to turn someone’s longing into belonging.