“In every encounter we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange.” —Brennan Manning
A popular Christmas song boldly declares, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
Yet, for many this is rarely the case. Some will be celebrating the holidays for the first time without a loved one. Feelings of isolation, loneliness, or betrayal will be multiplied over the coming weeks. Often times unmet expectations of the holiday season mix with the grey and gloom of winter to bring deep levels of depression. And for most people, the hustle and bustle of extra shopping, extra parties, crowded parking lots and check-out lines lead to greater stress than other times of the year.
Yes, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year is too often felt as the most difficult.
But we can change that.
Well, we probably can’t change it for everybody. But we can intentionally spread some holiday cheer this week and make it a little more wonderful for somebody. And if we can brighten one person’s day, maybe their smile can brighten one more.
Plus, given the fact the quickest way to find happiness is to help someone else find theirs, intentionally spreading holiday cheer is the best way to find it ourselves. Consider this list of simple ideas you could complete this week. Most of them cost less than $20 and will take less than 10 minutes.
12 Uniquely Simple Ideas to Spread Some Holiday Cheer
1. Handwrite a letter. The handwritten letter has become a lost art in our world. During the holiday season, the handwritten letter has been replaced by the mass produced-family-photo-card-purchased-on-Shutterfly. And in a world where handwritten letters have been forgotten, their uniqueness and value increases dramatically. So find yourself 10 minutes, a stamp, and an envelope. Choose an old friend with a current street address and put some of your thoughts of appreciation on paper. You’ll be glad you did. And it will be the best piece of mail your friend receives this holiday season.
2. FaceTime/Skype an old friend. Technology has entirely changed our lives. In my lifetime alone, the idea of video conferencing with a friend has gone from far-fetched science fiction to cultural norm. Use it to your advantage by connecting face-to-face with an old friend or a friend halfway around the world. It doesn’t need to be too long, just lengthy enough to wish them a happy holiday and maybe compare how much the children have grown.
3. Buy coffee for a stranger. Next time you roll through the drive-thru of your local coffee shop, offer to pay for yourself and the person behind you (if they have already ordered, the cashier should have their bill handy). Or better yet, a little trick I learned from a friend is to leave a $20 bill with the cashier after you pay and ask him/her to pay for the following customers until the $20 runs out. Either way, coupled with their favorite beverage, this pleasant surprise is guaranteed to brighten someone’s day.
4. Smile and joke with your next cashier. The hustle and bustle and stress-filled shopping days leading up to Christmas results in plenty of customer-frustration. Parking lots are crowded, shelves are empty, aisles are full, and check-out lines are long. During these days in retail, even the simplest of smiles from a customer is too rare and fleeting. Next time you reach the front of the check-out line, make the most of your interaction by smiling, engaging, and flashing a little humor.
5. Leave a nice tip. Rare is the waiter or waitress getting wealthy at their job serving food to patrons. Most of the servers I know are working the shift just trying to make the ends meet for themselves and their family. An extra $20 added to their nightly tip will certainly bring some extra holiday cheer—especially during a busy time of the year when they’d rather be home with their family.
6. Buy movie tickets for a family in your neighborhood. Know somebody on your block who has fallen into some difficult financial times? How ’bout putting some movie gift cards in an envelope and leaving it on their doorstep? Time with family is always good. And some holiday entertainment may be just the distraction they need to finally experience a little cheer.
7. Ask your religious friend about the story behind the season. Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and other religions all celebrate important dates and remembrances during the month of December. The next time you are at a holiday party, ask your spiritual friend the story behind their religion’s celebration. Almost certainly, their eyes will light up that somebody expressed interest in something so important to them. And whether you choose to believe the story or not, you will become better informed about another culture’s understanding of the season. Win-win.
8. Invite someone over for dinner. For any number of reasons, there are many people alone during the holidays. If you know someone alone this season, open your house to them for a meal. Rather than infringing on your holiday traditions, it may just become one of your favorites.
9. Send a gift of food/coffee. There are countless inexpensive, clutter-free gift ideas that can be shipped nearly anywhere in the world. With minimal expense and just a few mouse clicks, you can easily send an edible gift to show someone your appreciation for them. For example, a good friend just gifted me a membership to Mistobox. Needless to say, its arrival is virtually guaranteed to spread some holiday cheer into my coffee mug.
10. Shovel your neighbor’s driveway. I learned it from my dad years ago. Now granted, with the prevalence of snowblowers nowadays, this early morning surprise may be a little less appreciated than in years past. But if you can bring a little cheer to your neighbor’s face on a cold, snowy morning during the holiday season, your good deed will not go unnoticed—and will likely get mentioned by the recipient as soon as they arrive at work. And when it does, it will sound something like this, “You’ll never guess what my neighbor did for me this morning…”
11. Bring in a warm breakfast for your office. Doughnuts are great. I mean, everybody loves the guy who brings in doughnuts. But to take it even one step further this holiday season, bring in something warm for your officemates to eat. If the timing is right, you can bring in something homemade. But I once had a boss unexpectedly bring in 25 various breakfast sandwiches from McDonalds and place them on the counter for the office staff. Certainly, it cost him a lot more than a dozen doughnuts. But I still talk about those breakfast sandwiches even 5 years later.
12. Go ahead, sing along. Whether in your car, in the office, or in the store, you know the songs. They get played every year. And quite frankly, some of them are pretty darn catchy. So go ahead, sing along when you get the chance. It’ll brighten your mood and almost certainly the mood of the person next to you as well. Even if singing isn’t your strongest talent, you can always hum along. Remember, cheerfulness is contagious.
We probably can’t change the entire world with these simple ideas. But we can still intentionally seek to add life and cheer to the people around us. And as a result, make this season a little more wonderful.
Won’t you join me? So far, I’m 7 out of 12.