A couple of years ago, towards the end of January, with the Christmas lights and decorations long packed away into boxes in the basement, we notice that baby Jesus was still on our mantle. We were about to bundle him up and drop him into one of the basement Christmas boxes, when we stopped. “Wait, shouldn’t Jesus be guiding us year-round, not just during Christmas?” So we left baby Jesus on the mantle, and if you visit us, you can see him on the mantle for yourself.
Even if you’re not a Christian, there’s something special about the Christmas holidays. People are more generous, more attuned to the needs of others, move open, more joyful. So how can we extend that past New Year’s Day, even after the lights are down and the decorations are stowed?
My approach to life can be summed up as “Work hard. Be nice. Stay curious.” I plan to use this to keep the Christmas spirit extended into 2024…
Work hard. There is a lot to be said for hard work. I saw an article in a recent Blue Zones newsletter (which I recommend, it’s really nicely done and always has something I find interesting) about Niksen, the Dutch art of doing nothing. This is not something I’m good at, so would be a very poor mentor in Niksen. I am virtually always busy, which I have to be conscious of, to make sure I spend time with people building relationships. It’s made for an extremely productive life, when a recent report said that the average American watches 5 hours of television a day. Studies show the importance of work to add value to people’s lives, and for mental health. In Genesis, we’re told “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work…“. We are wired for work, and to work diligently. Gary Player said “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” As in all things, there’s a balance. You can definitely work too hard, and I certainly have personal experience with that. Still, there’s value in finding work that matters, and applying yourself to it.
Be nice. It seems like the simple act of being pleasant is no longer the default here in the U.S. Okay, maybe it’s still true in the south. I was surprised on one visit to Texas when I went out for a run to keep up my 50k race training schedule. I was running on back country roads, and a pickup truck driving by waved at me. I figured, “Well, we’re close to my dad’s house, and we kinda look alike, so maybe that was someone who knew my dad, and thought I was him.” That wasn’t really plausible, since my dad doesn’t run. By the time the third and fourth drivers had waved, I concluded that no, that’s just what you do in Texas, you give a friendly wave to strangers you see. What a great way to go through life. I want to model my behavior on a Labrador Retriever. Any time you see one, it’s wagging it’s tail. And like our grand-dog Vaughn, it’s convinced that every person it sees is going to be it’s new best friend!
Stay curious. Some of the best things in my life have come about through me being curious. So often, when I stop to ask a question, in addition to learning something, I make a connection. Or sometimes, I end up with almost a whole new life! When I saw how heavy my internal frame pack was in 1996, I wondered if I could make one that was more functional, but MUCH lighter. Because of that curiosity, I ended up accidently starting Gossamer Gear, and meeting all the amazing friends I have because of that. Because I was curious about a sign I saw at The Sparrow Bakery seeking part-time dishwashers, I now have an amazing job with a whole other set of incredible people.
So in 2024, my hope for you is that you work hard, be nice, and stay curious! Maybe you want to leave a red light bulb or a piece of tinsel somewhere where you see it every day…