Rather unintentionally, there has been a lot of talk about holiday traditions and comforts here at Philosophy Matters. It began with a discussion of Black Friday shopping, and was recently followed by discussions on comfort food and comfort TV. Talking to LKAwesome, we realized that these comforts, while comforting and certainly interesting to think about, all focused on what could be construed as negative actions. Certainly one of the big worries during the holidays is over-eating, and I’ve spoken many times about the problems with television.
I’m not trying to be bad the guy here – I have my own comfort foods and favorite shows – but I thought it might be helpful to take some time out to think about some healthier ways to seek comfort this holiday season.
The Importance of Tradition
Although JustHeath is our resident psychology expert, I would venture to claim that even more than the actual food or TV shows themselves, what really brings us comfort is not these items themselves, but the thoughts, memories, and the psychological impact that goes along with them. Maybe it’s movies we started watching every year with our parents before we can even really remember, or maybe it’s the matzo ball soup we didn’t learn about until college and just started cooking every time someone was sick. The comfort, I believe, is in the ritual and the memories we associate with these activities that we do with our loved ones.
On one hand, that can make it pretty tough to start a new tradition or find a new comfort, because it feels like we’re fighting a great deal of history. And yet, when we pause and think about, the present is rife with opportunities to begin new traditions. Maybe you’re with a new partner this year, or have moved to a new city, or there’s some other simple change in your life. All of these are little openings that can allow us the opportunity to work in a new tradition – to start something new, that will eventually have the same history behind it as our current traditions.
My parents recently reflected that for most of their lives, they always knew where they would be eating their Thanksgiving the following year, because we’d always have it in the same place. Now, their children have all moved out and their jobs have them moving more frequently than they had in the past. They realized this year that they have no idea where Thanksgiving might be held next year!
This could be a little bit scary if we allow it to – change always can be. But my challenge to you is to take these changes in your life and use them to promote positive and healthy habit changes. Instead of seeking our comfort in food or TV, let’s look for some new comforts!
Board Games – I’ve mentioned this one before, but it’s one that’s worked for my family recently and that I’ve definitely enjoyed – mostly because it’s more mentally engaging than television and is conducive to conversation. And this one started in just the way I mentioned – with a change of scenery! My family celebrated the holidays by renting a cabin and getting together there, and with these new surroundings, the tradition of board game playing was born. And it doesn’t have to always be the same game. We started that first year with Settlers of Catan, but moved on to Cards Against Humanity this year.
Meditation – Although I’d encourage everyone to meditate regularly, there’s no reason it can’t also be a comfort during the holidays or other times of stress. Most people come away feeling much better after meditating. And although this is technically an individual activity, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be alone. I’ve taught meditation, and simply sitting in a room and meditating with other people can be a powerful experience that can actually bring you together.
Exercise – I know, I know, this is probably the one you were hoping not to see on the list, right? But cities across the globe have added events like the Turkey Trot or a Jingle Bell Run. And even if you’re not a runner, getting out and walking one of these events if perfectly acceptable and perfectly fun. Bring your family and your friends. There’s nothing like being outdoors and enjoying yourselves together. Even if it’s not an official race, the fresh air is invigorating. And then if you do indulge in some comfort food later you’ve already burned off some of those calories!
Volunteer – One of my favorite traditions that my outlaws (that’s my term for my ex-in-laws) had was volunteering on Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. I enjoyed this tradition for two reasons. First, it was time you got to spend with your loved ones, and generally anything you do with people you love is time that you enjoy. Second, it was always a timely reminder of how many good things were in my own life. Rather than getting caught up in the food or gift-giving of the season, it was a way to focus on the awesome friends and family in my life, and reflect on how happy I was that I had a home and knew where my next meal was coming from. And bonus – it helped those who in need at the same time.
Reading Out Loud – This one would probably come more naturally if there are small kids around, but it’s something to consider even if there aren’t. Spend some time reading to each other – whatever you want or are interested in. Sometimes when LKAwesome and I are sitting next to each other and run across an interesting article, we’ll actually read it out loud instead of just sharing a link. It’s easy to forget how much we like to be read to! And more than sharing an article or watching TV, when we read aloud we tend to discuss what we’ve read.
Writing – Writing has always been a comfort and stress relief for me – even if it’s just documenting something that’s happened or my feelings about it. Although I don’t do this as often, it’s something I still make sure to do when I’m feeling particularly stressed or anxious. Writing gives us time to explore our emotions and work through them, which has a great positive impact. Even if you’re not particularly stressed, writing out the things you’re grateful for can increase your joy. And if you’re looking to spread that even further, write a letter to someone you appreciate and give it to them – or read it aloud to them!
Your turn – can you think of any other healthy comforts that you have or would like to adopt?