A Christmas Carol is the ultimate tale of holiday stress. Charles Dickens created a character who was emotionally and physically wracked by all-consuming horrible nightmares, the threat of poverty, the fear of no tomorrow and no time left to repent for abominable past deeds. Ebenezer Scrooge is a man desperately in need of the Mayo Clinic’s healthy living and stress management program.
What Dickens understood was that every day we have the choice to be happy or miserable, and within each day we have many opportunities to choose. Maybe it’s allowing the jerk of a driver who has been riding the shoulder for at least a quarter-mile to finally merge and squeeze in front of you on the freeway or to say thank you to the person who held the door open while you hurried in from the wind. If you grumble at the inept driver for the next three miles and take that negative energy home with you, how will it affect you or your family that night? Or if you say thank you at the door will you in turn do something nice?
Connie Popp is the campus minister at Alverno College and she believes we warm ourselves by doing positive things. Connie recommends each of us take a few moments to find the techniques and strategies that focus on gratitude. Not everyone has time for an hour-long meditation. Instead, it may be repeating a positive affirmation each day. Or something as simple as taking the time to breathe deeply to calm yourself and come aware with a clear head. There isn’t one process for everyone, and it may take time to find your own.
A friend of mine is amazing K4 teacher who has a mixed classroom of mainstream and Head Start program children. Despite the incredible challenges she manages with students, their families and the social service system, she maintains a positive and healthy attitude. So much so, in fact, that the administration at one school asked her to continue to say good morning and hello in the hallways with the hope it would rub off on the other educators. During a faculty meeting, the other teachers complained they could not possibly attempt cordiality. One said, “If I haven’t had my coffee yet, don’t expect me to say good morning.” Another said, “I have too much to do to say hello in the hallways.” My friend stood up and admonished the group. “Do you hear yourselves?” she asked. “You’re making excuses not to be friendly. You’re wasting so much time planning your negativity. All you need to do is say hello and you can keep walking.” Some of the other instructors gaped at her, while others hung their heads. They had not realized the negative atmosphere they had been creating. After that meeting, there was a shift at that school.
It is all too easy to wrap ourselves inside our heads and wallow, but none of us stands alone. At work, we are part of a team, a company, a corporation. At home, we are part of a couple, a family, a neighborhood and a community. It is up to each of us as to manage our stress and turn it into something happy as it will surely affect those around us. During the holiday season, as you rush from store to store or participate in 25 cookie exchanges or worry about finding the perfect present for Grandma, take a moment to enjoy. Then take two moments, and then 10 and then maybe an entire afternoon. As Ebenezer Scrooge learned, time is short. If you can remove regrets, anger, bitterness and fear, a happy life is much easier to live.
Thank you to Connie for sharing this next story:
There is a Cherokee Legend where an old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he says.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Well, which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”