“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Albert Schweitzer
At this end of the year there can be so many added pressures – grading exams, writing school reports, traveling to see family, and organising any number of holiday celebrations.
However, amidst all the busyness, I’d like to take a moment to encourage us all to take a step back and focus on what matters most. That we should all take the time to celebrate the end of a challenging year…but that the celebrations shouldn’t feel like yet another challenge in and of themselves.
Here are some key ideas based on the science of Positive Education and some hopefully helpful top tips so you can celebrate the season while safeguarding your sanity!
Create New Traditions
Does the holiday season leave you broke and burnt out? Then maybe this is an opportunity to re-think what this looks like. Celebrate traditions that are life-giving, affirming, energising and inclusive. Replace any traditions that are exhausting, depleting or downright disastrous!
Self-compassion is the art of showing ourselves kindness and acceptance, understanding that we all make mistakes, and being mindful of our present challenges without unduly dwelling on them.
Showing self-compassion can enable us to be curious about the decisions and choices we make. It can also help us to be more authentic or creative in the way we set or achieve our goals.
Here are some top tips that might help you create some ways to celebrate the end of the year while also being kind to yourself.
Limit social engagements
Are you an introvert or someone with lots of connections? Then prioritising the events in terms of ‘delights’ and ‘possibilities’ could help. Show yourself some compassion and keep in mind that your list of ‘delights’ doesn’t have to reflect others’ expectations.
Consider taking turns
Do you have a large family or have multiple family members you need to visit separately? Try alternating years or taking every second or third year ‘off’ from the round trip of visiting family and enjoy the holiday season solo, with friends or alongside the loved ones you live with.
Give with intention
Instead of giving gifts to everyone, agonising over the perfect present or maxing out your credit card, consider having a family-based Secret Santa, exchanging Christmas wish lists with loved ones or setting a dollar limit for everyone’s spending.
Let Go of Perfect
Wanting the holiday season to be perfect is only natural. However, it’s not necessarily a healthy (or realistic) expectation.
Positive perfectionists are achievement oriented; they want to have a fantastic holiday season that is enjoyable for all. Negative perfectionists are failure oriented; they don’t want holiday celebrations to fall below anyone’s expectations.
Although positive perfectionists tend to be psychologically healthy and emotionally stable, negative perfectionists experience lower self-esteem, more anxiety and higher levels of depression. So, as you reflect on your holiday preparations, if you tend to think ‘it’s not good enough’ rather than ‘it could be better’, it might be time to reframe your thinking around this season.
Whether or not you love Hallmark movies, we probably all agree that life often looks more like the shopping scene in ‘Jingle all the Way’ than the ending of ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ This season, consider what’s essential and what’s just nice to have.
Consider not cooking
Are you the one who always bears the burden of holiday meals? Consider sharing the joys and challenges of the season by asking everyone to bring something. Or support a local business and order ahead to have all the prep work done for you.
Identify the ‘musts’
You might need enough food for 10 people, but it doesn’t mean you have to cater for 10 000. It might be nice to have a special display of seasonal items, but that doesn’t mean every room needs to be decorated. Write your usual to-do list and then narrow this down to your non-negotiables (and then halve this if necessary!)
Bless the mess
If you’re welcoming guests into your home this season, outsource some cleaning, get the family on board or, better yet, invest in a sign that says: ‘Excuse the mess…we live here.’ No one’s home really looks like the catalogue, magazine or greeting card – your real-life home shouldn’t either. The most important ingredient should be the love, warmth and care within your home not passing the ‘white glove’ test.
Embrace an Attitude of Gratitude
The end of the year is often a time when we find ourselves reminiscing. As you reflect on the last 12 months, consider the people who have supported, encouraged and uplifted you over this time. How could you meaningfully express your gratitude to them in tangible ways? Acts of gratitude don’t have to be big, expensive or showy, but they do need to come from the heart. What could you say, write, do, make, buy, or help with, to show your appreciation?
Gratitude is a state of thankfulness for the tangible and intangible things we receive. By acknowledging the good things in our lives, we realise that the source of those things generally lies outside ourselves. This helps us to connect with something greater than the self – whether this is other people, nature or a higher power.
In terms of Positive Education, gratitude is strongly and consistently linked with increased wellbeing. Gratitude helps us to experience more positive emotions, savour positive experiences, cope with adversity, build strong relationships and can even improve our health.
Write a gratitude letter
Make a cup of tea and set aside a few uninterrupted moments to reflect on someone for whom you are deeply grateful. It could be a partner, friend, colleague or family member. Then visit this person and read the letter aloud to them or open it up at a holiday celebration. You could even use our Conversation Cards at your next holiday celebration to promote further positive dialogue.
Count your blessings
We all tend to fixate on the things that haven’t gone to plan. However, in the midst of closed borders and supply chain problems, decide to be proactive about refocusing your attention on whatever is going right, rather than what’s going wrong.
Invest in a gratitude journal
Whether it’s a daily one-sentence journal, What Went Well (WWW) reflection diary or a copy of Tal Ben-Shahar’s ‘Even Happier’, invest in a ‘gift-to-self’ that will boost your wellbeing over the year to come.
As William Arthur Ward once said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” So, this season, give with gratitude, create positive and productive traditions, and be kind to yourself and release any expectations of perfection.
May this season of celebration be one that sees you well.
BONUS: Gratitude Resources
Take a moment to share your gratitude with others by using our free Gratitude downloadable, our ‘Little Pack of Gratitude’ resource or some of the lessons from our Positive Education Enhanced Curriculum (PEEC).
BONUS: Gift-giving Guide for Teachers
Feel free to print this out, post this on your socials or leave any number of handy hints on display for others’ perusal!
- When I was teaching, the gifts I treasured most were always the thoughtfully written letters and cards that I received. These kind and encouraging words have been re-read multiple times over the years, and I still have a collection of cards and letters that I hold close to my heart.
- Gift vouchers are great, for the I-don't-really-know-you-but-I-want-you-to-have-something-nice present. Over the past two years, teachers have been required to work harder than ever before – it’s time for them to treat themselves!
- Most teachers seem to have a cup of tea or coffee permanently grasped in one hand. So, a fun mug with some special tea or coffee is a great idea. Ask younger children to decorate an inexpensive mug with a Sharpie, then bake it in the oven at a low heat to make it permanent (see Pinterest or Google for instructions).
- Consider something fun but practical that your child’s teacher could use in their classroom, such as a Pocketbook Pack or set of colourful posters! 😊
- A framed photo of your child with their teacher can be a lovely memento. Use a gel pen or marker to write a personal note on the back of the frame.
- If your child’s teacher celebrates Christmas, a quality Christmas ornament can be a thoughtful idea. One year I was given a glass angel inscribed with the child's name, class and year. It’s a beautiful way to reminisce and focus on fond memories...unless your child did not help their teacher create fond memories…(hahaha)
- And finally...everybody likes chocolate.
Aimee Bloom is the Product Manager at the Institute of Positive Education. She is responsible for crafting the Institute's Positive Education Enhanced Curriculum (PEEC) from ELC – 12. An experienced teacher and writer since 2005, Aimee has taught in both primary and secondary contexts, and has written content for a variety of government and non-government agencies. She is passionate about supporting teachers and ensuring the wellbeing of children, both in our schools and around the globe.
Suh, H., Gnilka, P.B., & Rice, K.G. (2017). Perfectionism and well-being: A positive psychology framework, Personality and Individual Differences, 111, 25-30.
Bluth, K. & Blanton, P. W. (2015). The influence of self-compassion on emotional well-being among early and older adolescent males and females. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(3), 219–230.
Ben-Shahar, T. (2010). Even Happier: A Gratitude Journal for Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. McGraw Hill.