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Exactly What We Need

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

The holidays have gotten off to an odd start.  Thanksgiving was different, to say the least.  Most family gatherings were small and lots of people were alone.  Now the focus has shifted to shopping and decorating. At least it’s a pleasant distraction.

Hanukkah begins on December 10th and Advent started this week.  Who knows what will happen by Christmas.  Given the depressing and stressful nature of this entire year, it might be uplifting to embrace some time-tested traditions of a spiritual nature. For centuries the Christmas tradition of Advent was a time of fasting, prayer, and alms giving.  Many of us were taught to “give up” something like candy or soda as a spiritual discipline in preparation for Christmas.  Nothing wrong with that, especially since many of us have gained a few pounds during the pandemic.  But giving up candy doesn’t help someone feel better.  And right now, nearly everyone needs a little something to feel better.  So here’s an old idea that might help us all feel uplifted.

Cut 25 strips of paper and write an activity for the day on each one.  Fold the strips of paper and place them in a jar or bowl.  Each morning, pick one, and commit to performing the activity.  By Christmas, you will be a better person (and a happier one) for the ripple effect you will have set in motion.

Here are some examples:

  • Send a Christmas card with a personal note of gratitude and encouragement to an active service member or veteran.
  • Leave a little treat (not homemade this year) on the doorstep of a neighbor you haven’t met.
  • Stop by your church or synagogue for a few minutes of quiet prayer or reflection.
  • Give up fancy coffee drinks or alcohol for a month and donate the money you save to a shelter.
  • Offer to do a grocery store run for an elderly neighbor.
  • Say something pleasant or kind to someone you don’t like, perhaps a grumpy patient.
  • Send a small floral arrangement anonymously to someone in a nursing home.
  • Order take out or delivery and give an unexpectedly generous tip.
  • Apologize to someone you may have hurt or offended. It may be more difficult than giving up candy.
  • Place a treat in the mailbox for your mail carrier just because.
  • Try to get through the entire day without criticizing anyone.  There’s some spiritual discipline!

You can make up your own list. It’s well worth the effort.  The next four weeks will pass regardless of our actions.  This year the true spirit of Advent could be exactly what we need.

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