The holidays are polarizing. For some, they bring joy, celebration, and valued time with loved ones. For many others, they are an occasion of sadness and isolation, highlighting loss and separation. Whichever camp you fall into, it’s helpful to remember the old proverb, “I cried when I had no shoes… until I met a man who had no feet.” No matter what is going on in our lives, there are people who have it far worse. It’s important to remember what we do have. Nick Vujicic, who literally has no feet, says it well on YouTube (I promise that this video is worth watching).
I first learned that volunteer work could give me valuable perspective when I was 12, long before I had read any literature to substantiate it. Through my middle school, I began to provide fellowship at a geriatric center called Daughters of Israel. I felt so good after each visit that I continued to volunteer after the official school program ended. I was lucky to have picked up this little trick so early on, and it has continued to work for me.
In the How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubormirsky, she shares research showing that altruism and acts of kindness, especially out-of-the ordinary ones, can boost happiness in the person who is giving. So if the holiday season is an unhappy time for you, and even if it is a happy time, it is a good idea to find some way to volunteer—serve a meal at a food shelter, organize a food drive, or visit the elderly. Exactly what you do is not important, as long as you step outside of your normal routine to share. You will see that what you give will return to you manifold.
Acts of altruism will create some context for whatever it is that you are struggling with. This is not to negate emotions of sadness, loneliness, or pain. Whatever you resist persists, so denying your feelings will only make them grow. Allow yourself to feel them. And at the same time, hold on to some perspective. The trick is to understand that it’s not one or the other. It’s both.