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How to have happy (not perfect) holidays? Discover the power of intangible gifts

Posted on 12/18/19

‘Tis the season, undoubtedly, for excess: too much food; too many drinks; too much money spent; too much stuff…

And sure, gifting feels good, but you really needn’t plunge deeper into your overdraft to show your loved ones how important they are to you. Nor do you need to spend hours that you really don’t have to spare, making handmade gifts.

In fact, in an age where we’re finally casting a critical eye over our largely unchecked relationship with consumerism, perhaps there’s no better time to shift focus onto the intangible – and, bonus, inexpensive – gifts you can give over the coming months.

‘What people tend to really value about the Christmas break is having that chance to pause and connect with the people we care about, as well as our deeper values,’ therapist and coach Sally Brown tells Happy Not Perfect. You know, those things that tend to fall by the wayside amidst the chaos and craziness of the day-to-day.

So, how does intangible gifting work? Essentially, it’s showing up for family and friends over the holiday season, with intention, to really invest in those relationships, for the benefit of both you. Neat, right? Here’s how to do it.

1/ Gift...time

‘Think back to being a child,’ suggests Sally. ‘Christmas is such a special time for children because it’s a time when adults - especially those outside of your nuclear family - take time out from their normal routines to play your new game with you and actually get on your level.’

So, besides from getting stuck in with Jenga or Mario Kart with the youngest members of your festive gang, how do you give your time?

‘It’s about organisation and doing a bit of thinking ahead,’ says Sally. ‘Look at your schedule over the Christmas break: when will you have time to just sit and talk with an elderly relative? Or the old friends from your hometown that you don’t get to see as much as you like?’

2/ Gift...attention

Social media may provide us with the ability to see into other people’s festive family time - but does that mean we’re required to scroll for hours through their carefully selected highlights? Nope.

In fact, as Sally points out, being mindful about who we pay our attention to can make a real difference to how much you enjoy your holiday season.

‘A crucial aspect is practising some self-regulation with our devices,’ says Sally. ‘Not having phones at the table, for instance. Or, perhaps suggesting that some occasions - like watching a Christmas film with the whole family - are done device-free.’

But, Sally explains, being present over the festive season is about much more than limiting technological distractions. ‘Think about who you want to catch up with over the break and then,’ she adds. ‘Then, when you do get the chance, let the conversation go past the surface and transactional level.’

3/ Gift...compassion

Families are complicated; so are old friendship circles. Inevitably, there will always be that one person (or, you know, three) who you just really rather wish wasn’t present.

So, what do you do? It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that silently stewing before complaining about said person to anyone who will listen after they’ve gone really won’t make you feel good.

‘When you have a difficult relationship with someone it’s human nature for your mind to play a sort of showreel of evidence reinforcing all the ways you don’t like them,’ Sally explains. ’This could be times they’ve hurt you in the past – or actions they take and views they hold that you find objectionable.’

While spending time with said person might be unavoidable, you do have a choice about how you handle these feelings. Sally advises acknowledging how you feel and then, without judging yourself, actively choosing to focus on their good qualities (which, she assures HNP, are always there somewhere).

‘Think of it as an investment,’ she suggests. One that you’re making in your relationship with this person, but also in the good vibes of the seasonal celebrations. Are you really going to let this person dampen your festive spirit? Didn’t think so. Here’s to a happy - not perfect - holiday.

by Claudia Canavan & Roisín Dervish-O’Kane, @allupinyourfeelings

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