We’re deep into the Silly Season.
Or the Holidaze.
You might call it by another name. Whatever you call it, it’s crazy out there.
Over the weekend I was at the mall (and at Target and at the grocery store and and and…) taking care of my holiday errands along with two hundred bajillion other people and I had the revelation that dealing with crowds at this time of year could be made easier and more enjoyable by being more mindful of our own actions, since that’s what we can control. Here are a few things we can all do to improve our shopping experience (and likely the experience of others), not only during the holiday season but all year round:
1. Have patience in parking lots. Getting upset because everyone else is at the mall trying to take care of their list isn’t going to help you find a parking space any faster and being angry over a lack of parking spaces isn’t the best way to start a shopping excursion. If you have to park at the very back of the lot (and if you are perfectly able when it comes to walking), take a moment to be happy about getting a few extra steps in. Exercise is good. When you’re trying to get out of the parking lot to go home, let someone merge in front of you. Everyone wants to go home. Letting one person get in line in a nice gesture. Just do it.
2. Use extra caution in parking lots. There are kids escaping the grip of their parent’s hands, there are other drivers who may not be paying attention, there are motorcycles and tiny cars parked in what you thought for a second was an empty parking space and there are all kinds of other obstacles that are easily avoided if you merely slow down and keep your eyes open to what’s around you.
3. Say sorry. If you bump into someone, say “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me”, even if you think you barely tapped them. It’s just the right thing to do. You may not care about ruffling the feathers of someone you’ll never see again, but why not? Wouldn’t you want an apology? I thought so.
4. Help others. Hold doors open or picked up dropped items for pregnant women, people with small kids (in strollers or out), elderly people, people in wheelchairs, or any other type of person who might have special needs. It takes two extra seconds and it could make a huge difference to those you’re helping.
5. Show compassion. If you come across a parent who is dealing with a crying kid, give a reassuring smile as you walk by, especially if you’ve been a parent yourself because you personally know hard that can be, but even if you’re child-free just because we’re all human. When we see someone having a hard time it’s nice to show them some empathy.
6. Be nice to store employees. You are not the only customer they have that day; you are one of hundreds and maybe thousands. Working retail is one of the hardest jobs out there, made a hundred times worse in November and December. It is not a store employee’s fault that they are out of the one item you wanted, that it’s really hot in the store, that they have to run the register and answer the phone while helping you with whatever you need, that they may not be moving as quickly as you would like, or that they may seem to have low energy. Keep in mind that lots of employees are hired specifically for the holiday season and there can be a learning curve, and even if they’re not newbies it’s likely they have been working lots of extra hours and they’re extra exhausted. Just be nice. It’s almost a guarantee that if you’re nice to them, they’ll be extra nice back.
7. Keep moving or step aside. Traffic jams are caused when cars slam on the brakes. The same thing happens with people in a crowded mall. If you’re walking with the crowd and suddenly stop for any reason (to check a list, to talk to someone, to return a text message, etc.), you’re going to infuriate a bunch of people and you might even get mowed down if those behind you aren’t expecting your stop or change in direction. Instead of stopping in the middle of the walkway, step out to the side so traffic continues to flow. Take care of your business, and then hop back in. Everyone will appreciate it.
8. Give people a break. Be patient with people who are moving slower than you are, especially if they are older, if they have a disability, or they are the companion to someone who needs assistance. Getting irritated about something that can’t be helped doesn’t do anyone any good. Imagine if you were in their place. Wouldn’t you want others to be extra tolerant? Pass them when you can and go on with your day.
9. Don’t forget to snack. If you’re walking around thirsty with a growling stomach, you’re likely to lose your patience more quickly. Drink water along the way and either enjoy a snack you brought from home or stop at one of the mall shops to grab something to eat.
10. Smile. Multiple studies have shown that smiling can create happiness, lower stress, and generally increase positivity, all desirable conditions while dealing with holiday crowds. An added bonus? You might cause others to smile, too.
I know firsthand what it’s like to try and buzz through the mall at top speed, focused only on checking things off of my holiday shopping list so I can get onto the next errand and maybe get home at a decent time to put on my pajamas and relax on the couch because I’m tired from doing all the things. You probably do, too. The problem with operating that way is that we tend to forget we’re not the only people in the world and our bad habits can ruin the day for everyone. Next time you’re at the mall, try some of these strategies. Focusing on what you can control as opposed to being upset and annoyed about what you cannot might not only create the perfect shopping day, but also earn you some karma points! You don’t need to celebrate a certain holiday or be of a certain faith to just be human. Let’s go out there and do it.