The holidays will be just about over by the time this column appears. You have been caught up in the undertow of life in our culture for several months now, but life will calm down at just the time of year that it is the darkest and coldest.

You need to take care of yourself.

There are many large and small ways you can nurture yourself at this time of year. Bubble baths by candlelight, soothing music, European coffee while you watch it snow outside (one of my favorites), snowshoeing through the woods on a beautiful day; there is no end to the activities that could nourish your soul.

But there is a most important activity that I propose to you in taking care of yourself. It is the same No. 1 activity I propose when I teach “Aging With Elegance” at adult education:

Find your passions and incorporate them into your daily life!

You may be 85 years old and riddled with arthritis, but if you just cannot wait to get to your computer and boot up each morning, you have a reason to get out of bed happy. You may have a job that has unbelievable stress from 8 to 5, five days a week, but if you can’t wait to get home to pick up that brush and apply oil paint to canvas each evening, you can weather the job much better.

You may have a family that has obnoxious teenagers on the one hand and ill parents on the other for you, the sandwich generation, to deal with, but if you can look forward to your line dancing each weekend, you have a bright spot that can help you through your week.

From hate to happiness

Long ago, my mother was terminally ill. That was a hard time since I was a single parent here with a good job and she was in California, where we’d go as often as possible. In my spare time, I needed to process many things, including death and making the most of my life. I listed all my enduring passions, and then some interests I’d always wanted to try. I listed ways to bring all that into my life so that each interest was addressed, if even in a small way. I still have those lists; I would never let them go. My writing and photography are a result of those lists, as are several of my hobbies.

My husband used to hate our winters until he reconnected with his passion for skiing. Now I become a ski widow for a few months. I go skiing sometimes, too, but I am down on the trails named “Rabbit Run” and “Squirrel Hill” while he is up on trails named “Hurricane” and “Risky Business.” Now, he happily anticipates winter.

I grew up four houses away from elderly Mr. and Mrs. Campanella. Mr. Camp, small to begin with, was all bent over from osteoporosis, and he and Mrs. Camp only spoke to each other in dire emergencies. But Mr. Camp could not wait each evening to hobble out to his ham operating shed and talk to the world (instead of his wife), and mess up all the neighborhood’s television reception. (No one complained.)

Frail little bent-over Mr. Camp lived into his 90s. They say eccentrics live longer than average. I think it’s that people with strong passions, who therefore may seem eccentric, live longer.

Beware those ‘lean mice’

Their passions give them a purpose in life, feed their soul, define who they are, let them escape and transcend daily life, touch the divine. Passions come from somewhere; I believe they are a gift from the universe, and to ignore them is to thumb your nose at the gift.

One of my favorite quotes is, “I see the lean mice of triviality nibbling away at my allotted chunk of time.” (Source unknown.)

It is so easy to spend one’s hours and days working and doing dishes and cleaning and running errands and other maintenance tasks of daily life, and not get in touch with what’s really important to us. And then one day we lie on our deathbed and think, “Drat! I have this passion and I didn’t allow time for it! And now it’s too late!”

So, on New Year’s Day, I urge you to sit down, by yourself, with paper and pen, and quietly think, “What are my primary, enduring passions? Which is most important? How can I begin? Can I start today?”

If you already engage in your passion regularly, then kudos to you. If you don’t, then this really could be life-altering. I believe this would be the best gift you could give yourself this holiday season; I believe the universe would agree.

And you’ll have a great winter.

Dianne Russell Kidder is a writer, consultant and social worker, who is based in Lisbon. She is a regular contributor to this column. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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