Amazing Gifts of the Holiday Season

Imagine seeing this e-mail pop into your inbox one day amid the flurry of last-minute, pre-holiday sales and deals that stores are sending out this season. You’d open it pretty quickly, right? I know I would…even just out of curiosity.

But the irony is we don’t need to wait for an e-mail reminder; there’s stuff just sitting under our proverbial nose this festive month—and all year long—that we so often forget about and never fully appreciate.

Here’s a top-ten list (maybe you can add a few of your own) of amazing, free gifts to help jog our memory:

1) That all-over good feeling we get when we help someone out. When I read the recent news about Kmart shoppers anonymously paying off the layaways of needy families with kids this holiday season, I was a bit in awe. Wow, look beyond all the depressing headlines in the news recently and there is some good in the world. This is the true meaning of Christmas. And it’s no wonder it makes us feel good: turns out reaching out and helping others has actually been documented in numerous studies to have health benefits over time: including lower rates of illness, depression, and even mortality.

2) Our ability to take a deep breath of the cool, crisp December air with our healthy lungs. This is not the case for the many people who suffer from lung cancer or emphysema. Take a moment to really breathe in the air around you—and relish in it; sure you’ve got places to go and things to do, but for one moment, just breathing will make you appreciate the fact that you’re alive and healthy! And that’s something no one can put a price tag on.

3) Being able to drop the weight we put on. Just the fact that when we put in the effort to take care of our body, it responds — that’s pretty darn amazing! But it’s something that gets lost in the mix of constant dieting and frustration that accompanies it. Where else in life do you know that when you put the effort in, you get certain and lasting results?

4) The joy you feel when it snows for the first time. Next time you complain about snow (or rain or just plain bad weather) making your commute more difficult, take a moment to revel in the true beauty of nature. Or call in sick and take your own “snow” day: head for the hills and go skiing, take a meditative walk outdoors, or make hot chocolate and “play” outdoors—with or without kids. (Work will always be there; these moments won’t be.)

5) The whole Internet thing. We don’t even give it much thought now: being able to log in and get pictures, videos, and images streamed instantly (remember dial-up?)—or even talk via video, FaceTime, or Skype with someone on the other side of the world. For those of us who remember faxes being a pretty cool invention, this really rocks the boat!

6) Having a silent night. It’s hard not to rush around during the holidays, but if you stop whatever it is you’re doing and just quietly watch people and the goings-on around you, you’d be amazed how your breathing—and stress levels—slow down. Having this power over your body is worth appreciating (and putting into practice once in awhile). And often choosing to stay home (over going to the latest holiday party) to put this into practice is well worth it.

7) Watching a child be born. For anyone who’s ever given birth (I just had my third child several weeks ago, so this is fresh in my mind)—or had the chance to witness a birth—the whole act of this tiny human being arriving into the world is an absolute miracle. And yet so many people often forget this (you just have to read the news to be reminded, sadly, of this every day). Let us appreciate our children—their laughs, their innocence, their simple pleasures— every single moment of every single day. After all, it was the birth of a single child that gave us Christmas.

8) Being able to witness a child’s pure joy and happiness. While I’m on the topic of kids, the next time a child gets so excited about something (for my son, it’s now baseball cards and Santa coming on Christmas morning) that he can’t stop talking about it, don’t read your e-mails while he’s talking. Put your work and to-do list (and Blackberry) aside and sit and listen mindfully. It won’t be that long before you’re begging him to stop and talk to you…and he won’t have the time. (Remember that song by Harry Chapin, Cat’s in the Cradle? If you can’t remember it, listen to it again. Its message is an important one.)

9) The smell (and taste) of fresh-baked cookies. Instead of worrying about how every single bite will pack on pounds this holiday season, take a step back. Make cookies, lick the frosting off the spoon, and indulge in a cup of eggnog. The season only happens once a year—and enjoying its tastes (and smells) is part of the enjoyment. And besides: everything in moderation is actually good for you.

10) The fact that you can sit in a seat in the sky and be transported to another destination. With all the holiday travel happening right about now—along with all the predictable delays—this is definitely worth remembering. The whole idea of flying is awe-inspiring when you really think about it. So next time you’re angry about flight problems wrecking havoc on your schedule, remember that just being able to do it at all is amazing!

Can you think of any others? Write them in the comments section below.

About the Author

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Valerie Latona is the former editor in chief of Shape—and one of the leading writers/editors on the topic of living healthy with confidence. Find more about Valerie, and read more of her blogs, at

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