The Secret Ingredient to Enjoying Every Day

As a child, the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas usually panned out something like this:

It is the Friday after Thanksgiving. Before noon rolls around, my Christmas list is proudly displayed on the refrigerator -- pages and pages of American Girl Doll accessories that I simply must have.

It is December 1st. I wake up and creep down the hallway, hoping that I somehow slept through 24 days and woke up to find all of my heart's desires underneath the Christmas tree, awaiting my tiny hands to free them of their festive wrappings.

It is Christmas Eve. I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling with butterflies in my stomach, far too excited to fall asleep. Tomorrow will be the day I discover whether all of my Christmas wishes will manifest in material form.

Finally, Christmas day arrives. I wake up far too early, around 4:30 A.M. I can't stand the fact that I will have to wait hours before discovering what the day has in store for me: presents, food, family, football, an insurmountable amount of joy and love... I am so very excited to be alive. I never want this day to end; I soak up every second, hoping that somehow my heightened attention and happiness will draw the moments out just a bit longer.

If you haven't guess already, Christmas was my favorite holiday. Nowadays, it still is, but it doesn't woo me quite as much as it used to; I've found more meaningful reasons to love the holiday that don't involve lusting for presents. As a Catholic, I've become more focused on the religious aspect of Christmas, in which I find much beauty and wonder (the midnight candlelight mass is by far my favorite mass all year). Additionally, being a college student, I joyfully anticipate returning home from a stressful semester at school -- sleeping in my very spacious, very soft, very not-bunked bed, eating home cooked meals, having a constantly stocked pantry, and being surround by family and childhood friends.

Despite all of these beautiful reasons to enjoy Christmas, I felt this terrible, nostalgic ache upon returning home from school this semester. Amongst final exams, grad school applications, and saying goodbye to graduating friends, my anticipation for Christmas has waned more than ever. I miss that anticipation, despite my love-hate relationship with it -- I remember finding it almost torturous to wake up each day, hoping that Christmas had finally arrived. However, that anticipation that I felt brought me so much more joy when December 25th finally did roll around. I remember being filled to the brim with happiness, love, peace, and kindness. I remember finding it impossible to contain my laughter and smiles. I remember being beyond grateful for all of the good things in my life.

I think on some level, as I aged, I began to attempt repressing my anticipation for Christmas because it was so agonizing to wait for the holiday to arrive. Without that anticipation, though, I realize that there's also much less joy come Christmas day. That anticipation was, and still is, the key ingredient to fully experiencing the happiness, gratitude, and love that accompany Christmas.

There are a plethora of messages that are associated with the Christmas holiday that speak to the beautiful capacities of the human spirit, but one of the most important lessons that Christmas has taught me is to joyfully anticipate the good in life. To wake up each morning, excited to discover what is to come -- what gifts the present day brings. In anticipating the beauty in each day, I am more aware of the good things that come my way. I notice the things that make me happy, no matter how trivial they may be. I feel more gratitude for everything I have. I radiate more love and joy.

Despite gaining more knowledge and wisdom over the years, this reflection on Christmases of the past has showed me that my childhood self can teach me a lot. She really had something going when she let herself fully anticipate Christmas and experience all of the wonderful feelings that the holiday brings. I hope to never let go of that childhood spirit that knows how to appreciate all the good in life. There is excitement and beauty in every day, if we only give ourselves the chance to experience it.