03/28/2008 02:48 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The True Holiday Spirit

This Holy-day (Holiday) season, it's possible that you won't come within 50 feet of a church, mosque, or synagogue. For better or for worse, we have become a distinctly less religious society in the orthodox sense. Some would like to tack this up to the "commodification of religion", whereby helping them bake cookies for Santa has become synonymous with taking children to church. Granted, this is an extreme case. But by analogy, the rationale is that all religious learning has to take place in an established house of worship. This simply is not the case.

Though it may seem that the religious aspect of this joyful time is lost in the clutter of parties and presents, spiritual inspiration can come in the form of every social interaction we experience. Spiritual simply means interior, something we experience within ourselves as a reflection of external experiences. We are spiritually evolving when we exhibit internal growth and change as a direct result of how we perceive the world and our place in it. Spirituality is not always about structured religion or least not directly.

You will find that life forces you to learn opportune lessons at what feels like the most inopportune times, and you will keep having to face the same model of ordeal until the repeating lesson is learned. People say "It's for your own good," and it's true. Once you can absorb the teaching, something inside you will change and you will not only be a better person, you will be a happier person for it, too. As we manifest this growth in ourselves, we move closer to other people because we can relate to them better.

When we love what is good and what is real, without couching this emotion in what is superficial and selfish, we move closer to a place of ultimate joy and spiritual fulfillment. What better time than the Holidays to put one foot forward?

It's hard to see the tangible ways to apply the above principles without a good example. Since you'll likely be giving and receiving a number of presents in the next few weeks, take a minute to think back to the last time you got a positively heinous gift. I know this sounds trivial: most people just take the present graciously and kindly shove it in the back corner of a closet where it will collect dust until the next time its giver visits. This is a sign of consideration, we think, for the giver's feelings. "It's the thought that counts," we tell ourselves, grimacing as we gingerly handle the soon-to-be clutter. But by saying this, we are only considering the giver's thoughts and not are own, which are of equal importance.

The whole purpose of gift giving is to exhibit affection and appreciation for a wonderful friend, family-member, lover, associate, etc. When you give a gift, your thoughts are on how best to convey these emotions. However, when you receive a gift, your thoughts are likely inevitable devoted to evaluation of how much you like the physical object the bearer selected. This material thing cannot possibly contain all the complexities of a human relationship with its giver, and yet we always try to read into how well the chosen object can approximate this. If a gift is lousy, we might tend to think that the relationship is lousy too. This is the sort of thought process that drives us insane and makes us unhappy.

Ultimately a gift is just that: something given to you, whether you like it or not. It does (should) not add or detract in anyway from the emotional content of the relationship itself. Focus on your thoughts as a gift recipient, because these do count, too. Ideally, you want to accept a gift and be able to appreciate the thought and effort that went into its procurement, feel affection for its bearer, and be grateful for the relationship that it acknowledges. Perhaps begin this process by realizing how lucky we all are to live in abundance where we do not lack for material things. If the scarf your Aunt Mildred knit for you is itchy and a hideous puss-green, chances are you don't every have to wear it because you are without need for it. You don't have to wear it, you don't even have to keep it.

But when you receive it, let the feelings you generate come from you higher self, not you lower, petty, materialistic self which is full of doubt and insecurity. Your higher self would never ask questions like "What does this gift mean? Does Aunt Mildred hate me? Why else would she give me such a gross scarf??" Your higher self would recognize gratitude not necessarily for the item, but for the relationship it came from. This sort of spiritual awakening is the true holiday spirit.

For more holiday season tips , click here for more from Huffington Post's Living!