Mid-January. A time of year characterised by the bleak weather and for a lot of us, equally bleak state of affairs when it comes to finances. The festive cheer has most definitely worn off and the combination of last month’s holiday overspend and the five week month is sinking in. At this point it’s easy to let a dark cloud of gloom descend as you constantly count pennies for the next few weeks and curse the you from last month that spent so frivolously on yummy treats and extra bits for the holidays. This was me before the weekend. With three children’s birthdays and Christmas within a 10 week period, we are not particularly flush at this time of year!
However, as I headed out for a run on Saturday, I got to thinking and realised that despite my not so friendly bank account, I still have a heck of a lot to be grateful for. Not only do we have a roof over our heads, food in our cupboards and religious and political freedom but we are also blessed to have (mostly) good health, some amazing friends and to be living in a beautiful part of the world, guaranteed to lift the spirits whenever you head out the door. It might sound ridiculous but just thinking about all that has changed my mindset and I now feel much calmer and more positive about things.
Interestingly, a friend sent a link to an article today that laid out 4 rituals a neuroscience researcher claims will result in increased happiness. One of the things it mentions is asking yourself what you are grateful for. Apparently, ‘the benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine….it can also boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex’. The complexity and cleverness of our brains and the way they works never ceases to amaze me.
Although we might mostly use the concept of being grateful to chastise our children when we think they’re being spoilt (don’t you know there are children starving elsewhere in the world?!), it turns out that there is a lot more substance to it than that. Gratitude has the potential to be a deliberate art, one worth devoting some time to, in order to gain some perspective on your life and to improve your mental health! Even if it’s only something seemingly small like enjoying your favourite meal or the kids fighting less, I think it’s worth making a mental note of the things you are grateful for daily. Although I’ve already covered New Years resolutions (I’m not a massive fan usually), I do quite like adopting the challenge of practising gratitude this year. It starts here.
(A bit late again…apologies!)
Christmas might feel like it’s long over and indeed with it, so is 2015 but I’ve been thinking about giving ever since I saw the kids opening presents with reckless abandon without much thought to those who gave them. I’ve struggled with how to encourage them to slow down and be more sincere with their thank you’s, to take time to look at their new gift and appreciate what someone has lovingly chosen for them. I am well aware that the are still young and that being presented with a huge pile of brightly wrapped presents must be pretty overwhelming and am hoping that as they grow older, they can be a bit more considered in their approach. But there was still a small part of me that was really sad and a little embarrassed about the way they threw a thank you causally over their shoulder, without looking, in the general direction of the giver before tossing it aside and turning to the next.
This coupled with some very thoughtful gifts from my Secret Santa and I was given a new appreciation for the art of giving. If you’re a halfway decent person, it goes without saying that you’d like the present you’re buying to be appreciated by the recipient so automatically, you’ll spend some time thinking about what that person likes, about what will make them happy. Once you’ve decided on a gift, you then need to choose the most appropriate version, colour or style, purchase it, wrap it and then give it to the person. It’s actually quite an involved process and it’s lovely to think that someone is giving up their precious time in order to do something that hopefully, you’ll really appreciate. I can be a bit of a scrooge about the consumerist culture that has enveloped Christmas and I’ve blogged about presence, not presents. But actually, when you strip away all the hype, giving a gift is a really lovely act of kindness and appreciation.
Furthermore, why should we restrict our giving to Christmas and birthdays? I reckon all year round, opportunities arise for artful giving and maybe we should try to inject a little more happiness and light into the lives of those around us by seizing these moments.
And of course, if you are a grumpy sod like me, you don’t have to give a traditionally bought gift. You can think outside the box a little. You can give the gift of time by babysitting for a busy parent, you can make some home made favourite treats for someone who you know needs a pick me up, you can take a child out for a special day to the zoo, you can volunteer some of your own time to shop for an elderly relative or just spend time with someone who might be lonely. So will you join me in 2016, in giving more of yourself to the people you love and to people that need it? When you see a way of giving something to someone that will make their day, why not take the time to actually act on the thought and put a smile on their face? Wishing you all a very Happy New Year folks, let’s make it a good one!