Last week, I was forced to go to Target. On a Saturday. Thirty minutes into my shopping experience, I was cowering in the chocolate section picking out a reward for myself in the unlikely event that I survived the rest of the trip.

Everyone seemed annoyed and vaguely desperate… for what, I’m not sure. To get out of there? To get everything they want/need? To win at Christmas shopping?

Let’s be real. It’s hard to be a good person during the holiday season.

With all the consumerism, cranky shoppers, stress, sugar consumption, and potential family conflict, it’s easy to descend into the uglier parts of our humanity.

Regardless of why, my recent shopping experience didn’t feel very Christmasy. It felt stressful and borderline apocalyptic. Like the world might end if people didn’t get their Christmas jammies RIGHT THIS SECOND.

People are definitely not their best selves while Christmas shopping.

But before we start behaving as badly as some people drive in the mall parking lot during the holidays, let’s take a step back. It doesn’t have to be this way. Just because we feel like we have to do Christmas this way doesn’t mean we actually have to.

Here’s some tips on how to be a peaceful presence in the midst of madness this holiday season:

1. Remember the people around you are actual people.

Just because they momentarily forgot how to function in a civilized society doesn’t mean they’re evil or your enemy. They’re not. No, really.

One way to remember this is to imagine a scenario that might make someone behave the way people around you are behaving… maybe they recently experienced a loss or got laid off from their job. Maybe they have a sick child or just got dumped. Maybe they work two jobs and this is their only chance to shop.

Create a backstory for them in your head that encourages empathy instead of hostility.

2. Go out of your way to do something nice.

Never underestimate the power of a random act of kindness to turn someone’s day around. It has an incredible ripple effect.

Let someone cut in front of you in line. Buy coffee for the person behind you in the Starbucks drive-thru. Ask your cashier what they’re doing for the holidays and look them in the eye when they answer… you know, like you really care. Encourage a mom whose kid is having a meltdown in the store. Hold the door for someone and wish them happy holidays.

It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It just has to be kind.

3. Give thoughtfully.

The whole point of a Christmas gift is to make someone feel loved, right? If you’re living in a developed country like the U.S. or Australia, it’s unlikely the person you’re buying for actually needs something. So go with a meaningful gift or gesture rather than something that will end up in a landfill.

Also, be mindful of the people who made the items you’re buying. We want to love them too! Buy a gift that is ethically made and gives back (we have a few of those) or gift an experience rather than a thing.

Shop better and/or less, and you’ll love people around the world better.

4. Take an afternoon to learn about other holiday celebrations.

Christmas is not the only holiday during this season. But when you’re immersed in it and when it’s part of the majority culture, it can start to feel like the only reality.

Take a few moments to step out of your reality and into someone else’s—it can be refreshing and reorienting. Attend a Hanukkah event or a Kwanzaa celebration, or simply learn about Christmas traditions in other cultures.

Turning Christmas into a learning opportunity can take some emphasis off of the consumer side of it—and it can help you remember the reason for the holiday.

This Christmas, reject stress. Embrace a more peaceful holiday by keeping the right perspective. Cast off the tunnel vision caused by too much Christmas shopping and make this season about others—the people on your list, yes—but also those who made the gifts you’re buying and the ones around you in the store.

If Christmas is going to be a season of peace, someone has to be the first to make it. Why not us? Why not you?

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