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Mindful : December 2016
When I was five my parents added a second story onto our house in Los Angeles. That Christmas our place was a construction site, but the holidays were still on full-steam. I remember feeling something new that year: the desire to give gifts. So one morning I crept up the plywood framed stairs to the second floor, where the only roof was a tarp flapping in the Santa Ana winds. There I collected little triangular cast-offs from two-by-fours and the quarter-sized steel punch-outs from electrical outlet boxes, and with Elmer’s glue and a few crayons I transformed these bits of construction trash into sculptural gifts for my family. A few things stand out for me about this memory. The idea came spontaneously and from a desire, rather than an obligation, to give. The gifts were handmade. They cost me nothing. The experience was in itself a gift: I became aware, at such a young age, of how my body and my heart felt as I made and gave gifts to people I cared about. I felt uplifted. The recipients felt this spirit too—it was a sincere expression of love. But somewhere along the way I caught on that the holidays are a time to spend money, stress about lists, and say you’ll get everything done ahead of time but end up wrapping gifts at mid- night, all while eating and drinking more than you do any other time of year. Somewhere along the way, the holidays got ugly. Each year the media churns out headlines like “How to Survive the Holidays,” designed to prey on your anxiety about how little you’ve done to get ready for the onslaught of cooking and eating, giving and receiving. As much as you might hear the other holiday theme—Remember The True Meaning Of The Holidays—it’s easy to get wrapped up (pun intended) in shopping, family drama, and having the right sweater for the office party. On top of the stress and pressure to spend money during the holidays, there’s also the issue of gifts and waste. It should come as no surprise to hear statistics like the EPA’s estimate that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, household waste in the United States increases by about 1 million tons. The ethical and envi- ronmental implications of disposable gifts are tremendous. So, here’s a wild idea: What if you started thinking about the holidays as a time to not only survive, but in which you can thrive? After all, research suggests being generous could sup- port your mental health. A comprehensive 2014 study by sociologists Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson at the University of Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Initiative found lower depression rates among Americans who are gen- erous with their time and their money. Consider what makes the holidays special to you, and set an intention early on—“I will give only things that allow me to share time with people.” “I will give from the heart.” “I will give homemade gifts, but I won’t go crazy making them.” “The holidays are an opportunity to connect in a sincere way with the people I love.” Make the reminder physical: as a daily alarm on your smartphone, across the fridge with the kids’ letter magnets, on a post-it note stuck to your dashboard. This year, give yourself the gift of rethink- ing gift giving. What do you have inside of you already that you can give? What can you give that genuinely communicates how much you care? It’s a challenge worth taking. Sara Kate Gillingham is the founding editor of website The Kitchn. She is the author of several cookbooks, most recently The Kitchn Cookbook. By Sara Kate Gillingham A 2006 study conducted by the American Psychological Association found 61% of people report feeling stress during the holidays. On the flip side, the study also found 75% of people experience feelings of love, and, in an open- ended question of their favorite things about the holidays, 53% mentioned their family and/or friends. of giving DID YOU KNOW? PHOTOGRAPHBYLEANDROCRESPI/STOCKSY December 2016 mindful 49 giving