Help Presence Become More Valuable Than Presents
By: Jay M. Greenfeld, Ph.D., C.Psych.,
It is that time of year where we, as a society begin to slow our work and school days down while we ramp our holiday celebrations, family time for many, and despite creating holiday time, the number and frequency of events ramp up. We have become conditioned as a society to work hard for the end of the year holidays both in school and away from school for children, teachers, parents, and anyone in between. However, one thing we tend to ignore, especially during this time of year, is the necessity to slow down, take time to reflect, and focus our efforts on putting the year behind us so we can move ahead more present, more connected, and more appreciative of the time and people we have in our lives.
Too often we are reminded at funerals that taking time out from the busy day is important. The people that we have lost in our lives tend to remind us of the importance of the vulnerability of life. Yet, when given the chance to take that time to reflect, we are often too quick to fill it with another task, event, or activity without devoting enough time to the things that matter most to us in our lives. True, there are a lot of people that intentionally take the time to plan vacations during the winter holidays because that is when most children are out of school. However, what tends to happen is we take these holidays only to find ourselves busying ourselves and our children with a lot of events. A classic example I often reflect on is the surprise a husband gave to his wife that he booked a trip for the whole family to go to Disney World.
The immediate response that followed was, "now on vacation, we need to plan for 15 hour days and over 20 miles of walking per day with every minute accounted for!" Although visiting theme parks and exotic places may be fun for many, one of the most important parts of having the time off during the winter is to slow down. Regularly taking that time to slow down will prevent early burnout in January upon returning from a break and maintain motivation. Moreover, taking the time to intentionally slowdown will help bring your accomplishments to life and those of your children, without feeling the need to go on vacation after a break.
To help yourself and your family take the appropriate time to slow down involves a number of avenues. Engage in routine mindfulness meditation on a daily basis. It may not be very much time, even taking 5-10 minutes per day to stop what you are doing, follow a meditation app by yourself or with your children and ground yourself (e.g., Headspace, Mindfulness for Children, Calm). Engaging in routine mindfulness where you are able to focus solely on yourself, your body, and your mind without any judgements, distractions or obligations can help you feel more connected to yourself. Moreover, engaging in a routine to slow yourself down will help contribute to you approaching the next task, event, or interaction in a more relaxed manner. Life is busy enough and we cannot take vacations every day, but we can put ourselves in the mindset to take a break for ourselves.
Next, take time to unplug from your phones. We have become a scrolling society where we are scanning through countless articles, posts, images, and feeds on an hourly basis. Unplug your phone, leave it in another room, and pay attention to the people around you through conversation. Your children are only so young for so long and the old adage suggest that time flies, we all know this, but how many out there take the time to stop and do something about that reality? When your children ask you to listen to some convoluted long-winded dream they had the night before, sit with them and listen to where their imagination took them, engage with them instead of trying to multitask in that moment. Rather than focusing on presents and giving your children a variety of presents that may or may not be put on a shelf within a year, focus on your presence within their lives. Because one day, all too soon, they will be establishing their adult lives and if they learn as children to pay more attention to the moment and the time spent with family, they will likely return the pattern when they are older, keeping their connection with you consistent.
Finally, do not hesitate to try something new. Embrace the struggle and the challenge that comes with doing something different, something that you find enjoyable, but that attends to a different angle of stimulation for yourself. We are often strong creatures of habit and have a very hard time changing the patterns that we have been engaged in for years. However, by being more intentional and more careful with how we use our time and how we remain more present, we can experience greater joy in the time that we are using. The more we are able to create some variety in our lives, the less likely we are to regret not experiencing enough. So, when we get to the point in our lives when we may not be able to do a lot of things because of other limitations, we at least know we did what we could when we were able to. Try painting your holiday picture with different colours and avoid using the same brush.
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