The challenges and vicissitudes of life are great and sometimes seem insurmountable and beyond our ability to cope, let alone overcome them. Yet, in the midst of this special holiday season especially, it behooves us to take time to make a personal assessment of how we view our lot in life. Sometimes it is just a matter of perspective – the glass is indeed half full, not half empty.
As I pondered my end-of-year column, I considered a year in review approach, from several different angles. But they were all so depressing! Bad news definitely grabs the headlines and the airtime, so the good news is mostly eclipsed or underreported since they don’t garner the attention-grabbing attributes of the bad.
But as a student of history, one can’t help but realize that there is always going to be bad news. There are always some catastrophes happening somewhere, always some acts of nature reminding us of our smallness compared to the powers of mother nature, and bad things happening to good people. And most of the time, there is little that can be done by us to prevent such events.
As a matter of fact, there is little any of us can do for issues and events vexing much of the world. But there is always something that we can do in our own homes, in our own neighborhoods, and our own communities.
And throughout the year much good has been done by commoners like us, which reminds us of our shared humanity and membership in the family of man. Not grandiose acts of unbounded magnanimity, but the little acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity to others. After all, not all of us can be like the Australian woman who left a $4.3 million estate to a charity that serves the homeless in her community.
But we can all do little acts that go a long way, like the Ogden, Utah hair stylist who organized a free haircut day at the local homeless shelter. The tears of joy and appreciation from the beneficiaries brought a sense of accomplishment and gratitude to those who gave of their talents and time to their fellowman in need.
We can “pay it forward,” the beneficent principle of repaying kindness shown to you, by blessing the lives of others, who in turn pay that kindness forward to others. Lily Hardy Hammond, in her book, “In the Garden of Delight,” coined the phrase, and explained, “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.” Imagine the delight and joy shared by all involved in a “pay it forward” act that resulted in over 250 McDonalds customers in Lakeland, Florida paying for the car behind them!
Pictures of a professor at the University of Louisville babysitting the children of one of his students went viral in social media. The student had a babysitter scheduled so she could take her test, but when those plans fell through, she had to take her four and five year old children to take the test with her. The professor entertained and cared for them in the hallway until their mother was through taking the test.
Several local young single adult LDS wards each year pitch their shekels together to help disadvantaged families have a semblance of a Christmas for their children. For these young people, mostly students, the sacrifice is great as they have little to spare themselves, yet they relish their opportunity to share of what little they have, to bring joy to others.
Literally volumes could be written of the little acts of kindness and thoughtfulness rendered just in the past few days alone. And hopefully each of us have our own stories of selflessness to contribute.
And as great as the temporal concerns may be to some amongst us, perhaps the greatest gifts we share are those that have no pecuniary cost, for their value far exceeds monetary numeration. The first of these, and arguably the first gift of Christmas itself, was love – a Father loving his children and the world enough to send his only begotten son to save the world.
John in the New Testament declares, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” The former president of the LDS Church, Gordon B. Hinckley made a superb observation when he said, “Generally speaking, the most miserable people I know are those who are obsessed with themselves; the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others…By and large, I have come to see that if we complain about life, it is because we are thinking only of ourselves.”
Perhaps therein lies the cure to the depression that often plagues the holiday season – look to the welfare of others, in love, rather than focusing on our own life challenges. It doesn’t cost a dime to be thoughtful, sensitive, supportive, kind, courteous, and loving to our fellowman. Come to think about it, that’s likely the cure to those who obsess over the commercialization of the season, as well.
The second greatest gift perhaps that we can give, is the gift of time. Time to visit loved ones, time to serve those who are incapable of serving themselves, time with our children and grandchildren, and time to reflect on what we can do to lighten the load of others.
None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. If we all would do everything within our power to improve the lives of those within our respective spheres of influence, there is no limit to the good that could be done, the lives that could be touched, and the hearts that could be buoyed up.
Perhaps rather than obsessing over what we cannot change, we should focus more on what we can. That would be the true spirit of Christmas, and would be a gift that would endure long after the trees and ornaments have been put away. And if we all did that, we would leave our little corner of mortality a little better than how we found it. I can’t think of a better gift to each other, or to the Savior on His birthday.
Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at [email protected].