I always find it magical when Hanukkah and Christmas overlap. Two of the great world religions celebrating miraculous light coming into the world, completely undeserved but just when we needed it most and full of grace and mercy. Stories that on the face seem completely ridiculous and mythical – stories Walt Disney would have rejected out of hand for being too fantastical. And yet…millions believe and celebrate faithfully each year. As I do.

And yet, this joyous moment is a target-rich environment for retailers who want us to BUY BUY BUY! (Please keep reading! I won’t continue my rant from my November article after Thanksgiving.) As commercials entreat me to Treat Myself! And, Get All The Gifts! My mind, honed by decades of trying to have a mindful worldview sees past their tinsel and bows and realize they are right without even being conscious of what they are saying.

So, here’s my Thrive Global, Holiday edition of positive habit stacking to Get All The Gifts.

This Christmas I ask for the gift of time. Time to catch up and feel a sense of accomplishment. Time to steal away for myself – check and check on this one. I treated myself to my favorite dinner at the neighborhood café last night (If you’re ever in Richmond, VA stop by the Hill Café in Church Hill and order the fried chicken, braised collard greens and Virginia spoon bread…you won’t be disappointed.) I’m also stealing away tomorrow afternoon for a matinee movie. I’m a firm believer that there is nothing more luxurious than two hours in the dark in the middle of the day having a shared experience and moment of joyous community with my fellow humans watching a movie.

I ask for the gift of experiences. Shared experiences with my family and friends over good stories, tall tales, pulling out the family history and photos over round after round of snacks and sodas. Whether it is remembering childhood Christmases to the family farm in Texas (a rarity as we lived far away in Chicago) to play endless rounds of card games and Monopoly with my sister and cousins, or “quick trips” to visit my mother’s family in Michigan, which involved more endless rounds of card games – we as a clan are pretty ruthless when a UNO deck appears – and putting together puzzles while football games hummed on the TV in the background… these memories are warm and blurred around the edges as a good, old memory should be.

Not to mention the stacking of gifts! Time + Building new memories with friends and family by going out and exploring new corners of the world. My mother is usually the instigator of such adventures.

Time + Building Memories + Mindfulness and Gratitude = happiness, contentment and appreciation for life in the moment. Life goes on, the world and circumstances change. We can’t keep our loved ones around us forever – either because they pass on or one person or another decides to remove themselves from the portrait – but learning gratitude and mindfulness allows us to appreciate the moment. Even if that moment is a quiet one, just you – or, in the case of one Christmas morning, just me and my dog deciding that circumstances were not going to get us down. We went for a long walk in the cold, crisp air on a sparkling, sunny morning by the York River in Yorktown, Virginia and enjoyed each other, the moment and I was struck by the chance – the gift – to be reminded of all who came before me that allow me to live in a free country that (more or less) respects religious and individual differences. What an amazing gift! (OK, I may have also been humming songs to Hamilton as I scampered up the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Roundout after my dog…dang you Lin Manuel Miranda…)

The whole point of positive habit stacking is that, like exercising muscles, gives you the gift to enjoy any circumstance you find yourself in and find joy in big and small moments. Time, building memories, mindfulness, gratitude, happiness, contentment and appreciation for life seems like a pretty good wish list!

Positive habit stacking allows us to understand that not everyone is infused with holiday cheer and goodwill towards their fellow men and women…and that is OK. Because the story of Hanukkah and Christmas is that when all seems lost and dark and you are utterly alone and cast out, that is the moment when the light comes.

Happy Holidays. Carrie Ann

The Hill Cafe, Richmond, VA