Being Present for the Presents

Categories: Family, Holidays, and Transitions / Change.

mrry xmas

This picture made me laugh.  This is a clever yet poignant statement about the way we often operate in our everyday family life.  This family isn’t putting on a fake front, even for the ubiquitous happy holidays happy family photo. 

This picture made me think about being fully present in the moment.  It is true that we can be so preoccupied and distracted that we miss our own lives.  We can even miss the times that are supposed to be the happiest, most memorable times! 

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” ~Babatunde Olatunji

Here you are smack in the middle of the “most wonderful time of the year.” Are you able to appreciate and enjoy this holiday season, or have you been feeling a bit stressed by the demands of the season? The Christmas holiday is listed as a significant life stress on the “Life Stress Inventory.” Just for reference, other events listed on this inventory include moving, changing jobs, major illnesses and legal trouble. For people who already feel maxed out on stress, the holidays can push them into an unhealthy stress reaction. Unhealthy stress reactions include irritability, anger, depression, anxiety, social isolation and increases in addictive or obsessive behavior. Having these reactions during Christmastime is nobody’s idea of the “happy holidays.”

I would guess most of us would like to avoid these behaviors all the time, but especially during the holidays. But what often happens instead? If you are like me or my wife, it’s pretty easy to get stressed out about coordinating schedules, getting the house ready for the holidays,  running here and there, going to the kids’ Christmas functions, going to church Christmas functions, buying gifts…figuring out how to pay for it all and get it all done. It’s overwhelming! That’s why many adults joke, “Can’t we just skip Christmas this year?”

How can you and I make sure the holidays are filled with peace and good tidings instead of high stress?  A book by Spencer Johnson entitled “The Present” provides some simple and timely advice on living with more joy and less stress. Christmastime is the perfect time to heed this advice. The basic idea is to live in the moment. The author tells us living in the present moment is really a gift we give to ourselves. Remember a time when you were thoroughly enjoying yourself or were completely absorbed in the task at hand? You weren’t thinking about the past or the future at that time, only the present moment. An example could be mowing the grass, sled riding, building or making something. When you are engaged in tasks like these it’s harder to get stuck in the past or worry about the future.

Depression results from being stuck on how the past went wrong or on predictions of how the future will go wrong. Anxiety is often about being focused on what we are afraid may happen in the near future. The thing is we have no ability to go back in time and fix what went wrong, and we aren’t really good at predicting the future either. In the book, “The Present,” the author suggests the best thing we can do is LIVE in the present, LEARN from the past, and PLAN for the future, rather than live in the past, learn from it and then you can let the past alone. If the future is worrying you, the best way to control the future is to plan for it. That is the only way to make the future better than the present. The past is gone, NOW is all there is. Use it or lose it.

As you live in the present moment, be mindful of just being there. A recent commercial for Microsoft has Deepak Chopra saying “I am a human being. Not a human doing. Not a human thinking. A human being.” This is good to remember. Just be. The way to really be present is to become absorbed in the moment rather than focused on to-do lists and filling every moment with activity. When you are really there in the moment (rather than distracted by the past or future) your kids will know it. Kids are better than us about being in the present moment. They will respond to your ability to be there with them. You will enjoy it more and so will they. This is how your presence becomes one of the best presents you can give your family this Christmas.

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