The holiday season has just started and I have read dozens of social media posts from friends and strangers who are grateful this year. But, this is not another note of thanks, even though I too am grateful.
I’m supremely grateful for my family, for everyone’s relative good health, for our comfortable home and comparative feeling of safety. I’m grateful we are not subject to food uncertainty, and am relieved we are not part of the huge shifting mass of world refugees. I’m thankful I can sit down at a table filled with delicious food and drink created together with my lovely family. I am so grateful we contribute to caring for each other in this very basic way. We cook for each other. Listen to each other’s stories. Laugh at old remembered jokes and appreciate new ones.
So, while I am grateful for all that, this piece has another purpose.
Look around your family and friends during this holiday time of year.
Are they smiling and laughing?
Are they part of the celebration or do they remain slightly separate?
Are they standing firmly in the middle of your gathering, or are they metaphorically near the door? Maybe they even have one metaphorical foot outside. Maybe they are only pretending to be present.
Each holiday season brings both the chance of happiness along with self-recriminations and guilt when one is unable to achieve that happiness.
For some people, ongoing feelings of disconnection are enhanced by the exhibitions of warm happiness and belongingness of those around them. When that feeling of isolation stubbornly remains even while gathering with loving friends and family it can be especially challenging.
We are told repeatedly how happy we should be. After all, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” This message is so pervasive that those who do not feel they are part of the magic of “home for the holidays,” sometimes feel increasingly lonely.
It is hard to ignore feeling disconnected when you are standing outside the warmth of a loving group.
Family gatherings and festive holiday occasions can become sources of dread rather than occasions of happy anticipation. Experiencing guilt over an inability to achieve happiness can lead to progressively deeper feelings of loneliness.
So look at the people sitting around your table. Look at those who arrive late and leave early. Check for forced smiles and shuffling feet.
Not everyone enjoys “the most wonderful time of the year.” Some feel it only highlights their own inability to feel like part of a group.
Find these people. Help them feel included. Notice them there at the edge of the crowd and bring them a little further inside.
We can make a real difference to those on the edge.
That’s something we can all feel grateful for.