But I like Christmas gifts!

A few nights ago, my siblings-in-law were over to discuss what method of gift-giving we were going to try this year to minimize expenses. In Christmases past, we tried drawing names, imposing spending restrictions, making a rule that gifts must be homemade, must be consumable, or contributing to charities in lieu of gifts. We couldn’t seem to agree on any of those methods this year. Every method had its problems. Drawing names was dumb because no matter who got who, the guys always ended up buying for the guys and the girls always ended up buying for the girls. Spending restrictions don’t work, because you search and search for something under $50, meanwhile passing up all the “perfect gifts” for that person because they are $51, and you end up getting them cheap crap. And homemade gifts? Yes, my artsy-craftsy very talented sister-in-law makes excellent homemade gifts, but my husband and my attempts at gift-making are always crap, and we end up going out and blowing money on last minute gifts. Donating to charities is wonderful, but my brother-in-law hit the nail on the head when he said “but I like getting Christmas gifts!”

These days, we are almost made to feel guilty for wanting stuff for Christmas. It’s funny, while being constantly bombarded by ads for the latest and greatest electronics, toys that will magically turn your kids into geniuses and a Lexus in your living room on Christmas morning, we are also being told to get rid of stuff in order to be happy, and to stop the consumerism.

But, like my brother in law, I also like getting Christmas gifts. When you get to be my folks’ age, you’ve probably already acquired most of the things you need, and you can go out and buy the things you want anytime – you don’t have to wait for Christmas to see if someone else will buy it for you. Therefore, it’s easy to say “all I want for Christmas is to spend time with you.” When you are my age, struggling to make ends meet, we have a list of needs, in order of priority. And waaaay down on the list are “wants” that we will never buy for ourselves, because there is always something needed more, especially now that we have a kid.

So when my family asks what I want for Christmas, do I feel a little immature and selfish handing over a “list” instead of saying let’s just spend time together? Yeah, I do. But you know what? I love getting lists from others. I love picking and choosing what to buy off that list and shopping for it. I love to get a little something besides what’s on the list, something special just for that person, a little Christmas surprise.

So this year we decided not to make any rules. We will spend what we want, buy what we want and give what we want to who we want. My husband and I may not be able to spend as much as others this year, but it doesn’t matter. They are our family, they love us and we love them. It’s not a competition with us – it’s thoughtful gift-giving.

Getting what I want for Christmas is a wonderful feeling – it allows me to cross a few things off my list, and I like to think giving out a list makes shopping for me a little less stressful for others. And making someone happy once a year by giving them a gift they wanted or that is a pleasant surprise? That’s the best feeling of all. And that’s what Christmas is really all about for me.

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Happiness is being where you are – and Zoloft

I am pretty obsessed with self-improvement. I could spend hours poring over magazines, web sites and blogs dedicated to that content. It’s one of my favorite things to read about. In fact, I originally thought the focus of this blog would be my search for happiness.

I’ve been searching for contentment in my life for as long as I can remember. To my self, I’m never enough to be happy – pretty, thin, talented, smart, athletic, rich, etc. I know this isn’t a unique problem. Most people feel inadequate at one time or another in their lives. I think it only becomes a problem if your life becomes consumed with searching for external ways to acquire these things in order to become happy. This inner dialogue probably sounds familiar to you:

“When I graduate from high school/college I’ll be happy…”
“When I get married I will be happy…”
“When I have kids I will be happy…”
“When I get a new job/make more money I will be happy…”
“When I lose 20 pounds I’ll be happy…”
“When I retire I will be happy…”

Of course on your wedding day or the day you get a promotion at work you feel very happy, but that’s always a fleeting feeling, isn’t it? On an ordinary day, are you happy? Do you even know how to define your happiness?

I was hoping that during this period of unemployment I would be enlightened with my true path, and everything else would fall into place, especially money and happiness. That hasn’t even come close to happening, but over the last couple of weeks, I have noticed a subtle transformation in myself. Most of the time I feel good physically. Most days I have motivation to at least make my bed, some days I have more. I am enjoying getting out and seeing friends and family on a regular basis. I am not feeling the urge to drink alcohol every night to unwind or every time I go to a social event. I am exercising moderately and not obsessing over my weight. And I am pretty darn satisfied hanging out with my little guy every day. Dare I say it? Am I…happy? I’m thinking happiness for me is defined by a general feeling of content on most days. Of course some days I still cry when I hear a sad song, or get frustrated with not getting a call back on the zillionth job I’ve applied for, and I still have days where despite having a million things to do, I sit and watch tv and pig out. But overall I feel pretty good right now, which is quite unexpected given my bleak, even somewhat dire financial outlook.

I’m trying to take some advice from some of the blogs and magazines I am reading to be mindful, present, just breathe, etc. It does seem to be working. It is incredibly freeing to learn how to do this – stop the expectations you have of yourself and everyone else, stop worrying over things that can’t be controlled, and focus on and enjoy the here and now.
Right now is good enough. For some reason the universe wants me to be right here right now.

Of course, the party in my prescription drawer might have something to do with this sense of well being too, but that’s a topic for another post.

Nice Advice

They say for every insane amount of wonderful things that can happen to you in a day, you always dwell on and remember the one negative thing. That must be why my memories of grade school are mainly merciless teasing and name-calling from my peers, being ignored by the boys and left out by the girls. It couldn’t have been all that bad, but sadly, that’s what I remember.

I remember laying on my bed crying after one particularly bad day. My mom was sitting next to me trying to make me feel better. She was good at that. She gave me hope by telling me the nerdiest girl in her school grew up to be Miss America. Much later, she admitted making that up, but it kept me going for a few years. Anyway, the moral of her story was be nice to everyone, no matter what, because you never know what is going on in a person’s life or who they will turn out to be. For some reason, this advice resonated with me; probably because I felt guilty. Even though I knew all too well how awful it felt to be made fun of, I gladly went along with it on those rare days when the popular kids laughed at someone else’s expense instead of mine.

This simple advice, be nice to everyone, was burned in my brain as I started a new chapter in my life – junior high. I was so excited to go to a new school, make new friends, go to 7 classes in one day, have a locker! Oh who am I kidding…I was excited for all the new boys. Fortunately for me, I grew about a foot throughout sixth grade and the summer, leaving my baby fat behind while developing ample boobs. I also grew out the modified mullet hairstyles I donned in 3rd through 5th grade, and discovered what a little mascara and lip gloss can do for a girl. Apparently, 13 and 14-year old boys like that sort of stuff, and I was thrilled to finally be noticed.

No longer one of the nerds, I still tried my hardest to follow my mom’s advice and be nice to everyone I met. The kindness from others was returned tenfold, and junior high was easily my best school experience. I met so many cool people that I may have not known had I not followed Mom’s advice.

In grown-up world, there are so many reasons to not be nice to people. People can seem so rude and ignorant. They cut me off in traffic, or take up the whole aisle in a grocery store and then go so slow it hurts, or are just not as friendly to me as I think they should be. Sometimes I just want to tell them off (or flip them off), and sometimes I do just that.

Thankfully, I have an amazing friend who reminded me the other day how important it is to be nice to everyone. She is going through one of the worst experiences anyone can go through – the loss of a child. Through her writing, she describes how hard it’s been to go on with day-to-day life while dealing with her grief. Her world has changed completely without her son, while everyone else’s world goes on as if nothing has happened. I can’t stop thinking about how she describes going out into that world now:

I wished every time I walked out my door that I had a tattoo on my forehead that said, ‘My child died. Please be nice to me.’… No one looking at me knew what had just happened. How could they know? So I went out into the world and came across all the jerks from before. You know who they are…the people who ride your bumper because you’re going the speed limit and they can’t handle it, adding some nice horn blasts that seem to last for 10 minutes then speeding around while glaring at you or giving you the finger. The lady in Target who keeps ramming her cart into yours because apparently the line has moved and you weren’t aware of it, and did I mention she’s making stupid comments?

How many times have you been one of those jerks riding someone’s bumper on the freeway because you were late and they weren’t going fast enough for you? Ever flipped off a complete stranger? Gave a dirty look to someone in a grocery store for not paying attention? I sure as hell have. Many, many times. What if the person I was so awful to was going through the same thing my dear, sweet friend is going through? It’s unbearable to think about.

The sad thing is, they probably were. Everyone is going through something. Maybe not the loss of a child, but maybe a divorce. Illness. Job loss. Loneliness. A fight with their teenager. Maybe their car just broke down, or their dog died. Maybe their boss yelled at them, or their fattest fat pants were too tight that morning, or they just had to put their parents in a nursing home, or the fourth person they know in a year was just diagnosed with cancer. The list is endless, and every person you meet is going through or has gone through or loves someone who is going through something painful. My heart breaks for my friend, and I want to wrap her up in my arms and never let anyone be mean to her again. She is not alone in her grief. Perfect strangers all around me are grieving too – in the grocery store, on the freeway, at the other end of the DirecTV customer service line…

I will try to be more like junior high Mandee, and be much nicer and more understanding. I am so grateful to my mom for giving me the single most important piece of advice I have ever received. I am so grateful to my friend for reminding me that having a bad day or a bad moment is not a good reason to abandon compassion for others.

I don’t give out a lot of advice, but this one is worth passing on: Just be nice. You never know what someone is going through.

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