Several years ago I wrote a novel entitled Finding Grace. I’d always wanted to write a novel and am quite pleased and proud to have written the type of book I love to read. One of the major characters is an older woman who serves as a life-long mentor to a much younger Grace. I named the elder woman Mrs. Pettermint, with a few quirks to make her interesting. Throughout the book, this wise woman offers her perspective on everything from love, to life, and to healing. And while she didn’t specifically mention Christmas or any of the other holidays celebrated this season, I can easily imagine what she might suggest. Here are five pieces of advice I can almost hear her say to Grace and anyone else who wants to listen.
#1 Don’t COMPARE your holiday traditions or celebrations with any other—real or imagined. As Mrs. Pettermint would be sure to point out, it is so very easy for all of us to imagine the perfect holiday (either from our past, from social media, or from television) and then be stressed or depressed because ours doesn’t even come close. Duh! If your imagination is anything like mine, I can easily imagine the very best. So there is no possible way in the world for real life to duplicate that.
Who hasn’t seen It’s A Wonderful Life or any of those mushy Christmas Movies on The Hallmark Channel where everyone is in love (has the best family ever) and has the most amazing holiday possible in the end? Remember—they are movies—not real life. Or what about remembering and comparing the best Christmas you ever had in the past? Let it go—we can’t go back, and that particular holiday will never happen like that again.
Maybe the best suggestion Mrs. Pettermint would supply in this regard is to make a new memory starting now. Do what feeds your soul. Stay true to yourself. Like a quiet holiday? Make it so. Like a loud and rowdy one? Make it so. Don’t have anyone close to celebrate with? Reach out and find them. Just be true to yourself and stop with the comparison to anyone, any other time, or any other example.
# 2 Never spend more than you can easily afford! Mrs. Pettermint was big into frugal and sustainable living. Using credit to buy things was a big no-no to her. While, comfortable, she was never extravagant even though it is eventually revealed that she could have been. I believe she knew without a doubt that it wasn’t what you could buy or not buy that determines a person’s level of happiness or satisfaction. Instead she always focused on creating meaning and purpose in everything she did.
On the other hand, Grace (Mrs. Pettermint’s mentee) came from a very modest background. Mrs. Pettermint knew that what Grace needed most was a friend who loved her and wanted to spend time with her. Perhaps that is one of the best gifts we can give to anyone—young and old alike.
#3 Go for quality—not quantity. I can’t say that Mrs. Pettermint was into Rightsizing. That practice actually came into my life after I wrote my other book on the subject. But I can easily believe that she was a big proponent of quality over quantity. It’s very tempting in our current culture to believe that “more” is always the answer. More presents. More parties. More guests around the dinner table. More everything—regardless of how much it costs or how high the price—in terms of money, time, emotion, or wellbeing.
What if we could instead gently allow the next few weeks to unfold in a very simple and uncomplicated way? And if we really wanted to give a gift—to anyone that is special to us—what if we took the time to just give them one thing deeply meaningful? Why not try that instead of running around making ourselves crazy so we can shower them with a bunch of stuff that they may not even want or need? What if we took the time to spend a few quiet moments with each of our loved ones in the days leading up to the holiday, instead of cramming them all together in one big gathering and then not having any special time with any of them? I’m not sure what the holiday means for anyone other than myself, but I’m pretty sure that Mrs. Pettermint would remind me that it is quality—not quantity.
#4 The “why” behind your actions is far more important than the “what” or the “how”. While I don’t remember Mrs. Pettermint saying this directly in the book, I can guess that she would. While Grace continually asked her for advice, the older woman had a habit of turning it around and asking Grace why she wanted to do something in the first place. For example, instead of being wistful about what wasn’t happening in her life (holiday, finances, friendships, etc.) Mrs. Pettermint would ask her what she hoped to have or be if she had them. In many cases the lack Grace (or anyone of us) feels comes from not feeling fulfilled or loved in some way. That’s when Mrs. Pettermint would guide Grace toward a way to satisfy those needs rather than the obvious. I’m guessing that anytime any of us complain, blame or bemoan a situation it is because a very real need inside of us isn’t being met—and we want someone or something to save us from ourselves. Mrs. Pettermint would have none of that!
#5 It’s the journey—not the destination. That phrase is one of Mrs. Pettermint’s favorite sayings and she repeats it several times to Grace throughout the book. I think it applies equally well for the coming holidays. If we aren’t enjoying and appreciating the days and week’s leading up to whichever holiday we celebrate, then we are missing out on one of the greatest gifts they offer. One specific day in the future isn’t worth the sacrifice of all our happiness, peace of mind and wellbeing every day along the way. Instead, I know Mrs. Pettermint would encourage us to enjoy every moment, every single day as much as we are able.
I wrote the first draft of Finding Grace back in my 40s and wrote it more from Grace’s perspective than anything else. But now that I’m older, I am beginning to feel the benefits that Mrs. Pettermint taught that I could only then imagine. The big one of course, is that I no longer feel the same need to keep up with, or impress, those around me and can instead be true to myself. I’m positive that Mrs. Pettermint would approve of that for me—and for you! I’m guessing she would also believe it is SMART to remember that what makes any holiday special and memorable are the feelings they generate inside each of us. Whatever holiday you celebrate, may those feelings remind you of what you value and hold most dear in the coming days.