Running to Stand Still – Happy (not Harried) Holidays from UHPS

Running to Stand Still – Happy (not Harried) Holidays from UHPS

The end of the calendar year in New Zealand reminds me a little of a relay race, with multiple athletes wearing a myriad of team colours, all hurdling towards the finish line. There is elation, apprehension, and resilience that all emanates either from within our own minds, and/or from our friends and allies on the sidelines (many of whom are also in the race, at least for some of it). Growing up in the northern hemisphere, and teaching almost ten years on that side of the world, this time of year has always looked quite different. Up north, there’s the obvious presence of snow (usually) and all the winter festivities that come with frigid temperatures. However, in New Zealand this time of year, the sun sits and sets a little differently. We welcome Santa, but we also expect there’s the heat of summer travelling in tandem with his sleigh, if not well ahead of the big guy and all that he represents to so many Kiwis. You can still hear many of the same carols reverberating through the shopping malls as you would in Canada, America, or the UK. But the most striking difference is that this time of year is also the end of the school year. This adds another few laps to the race, and often has hidden corners and terrain that are not always easy to navigate. That, and an almost universal determination by Kiwis to ‘reach the beach’ with loved ones, be it family or friends.

The board shorts are ready for regular rotation and the expectations to finish the final run, so that one can actually stand still in this new (or similar) attire, is close at hand.


So, the contrast between north and south can seem quite pronounced. However, the similarities are still there. There is the spirit of Christmas, and the wonders of a shared holiday that brings people together in ways that help us appreciate one another and all that many of us are so blessed with. We often take this time to show gratitude and extend generosity to those we may have not had an opportunity to during the year. It’s also that time when time itself seems to travel at a different pace and holiday mode begins.


Here are a few thoughts on maximising your time with family and strengthening the relationships that often keep our feet in the race, but also on the solid ground that many of us travel day in and day out. We also always need to be mindful of our place in the broader picture as Kiwis and global citizens.

  • Give the gift of experience rather than more ‘stuff’. In New Zealand, we throw out about 2.5 million tonnes of waste each year. When we buy something, we need to better consider how we will either reuse, recycle or responsibly dispose of this item when we (or the recipient) no longer needs it. If we stop to think about just how quickly we cycle through the ‘things’ we love – ie. Smartphones, digital devices, etc., it’s at an alarming rate compared to our behaviour even less than a decade ago.

Here are some ideas for gifts that put the experience before the excess:

The Minimalists:

Six Figures Under:

Red Balloon: 


  • Take the time with your family and loved ones with a deliberate approach to being present. It sounds straight forward enough, but it’s amazing how easily we’ve been swooned into a world of constant distractions and diversions. If you think about your conversations with most people, they are often interjected by a message, text, or alert of some kind that pulls us away from sustained attention. It is that kind of attention that is needed to nurture our relationships and really find out what is happening in people’s lives. We all know that the state of our overall mental health in New Zealand is in dire need. One way we can find solutions to these very complex challenges, is to create more opportunities to talk to one another. Sometimes technology can help us initiate this, but unless we have the ability to come back to our most basic form of face to face communication, then we do a disservice to our relationships.  It’s not that we don’t get an enormous amount of value out of our technologies and ability to communicate in so many ways. (It is because of social media that I am able to feel closer to my family back in Canada).  And like many of us, there are ideas and whole worlds that have opened up in my life in many exciting ways, almost completely facilitated by technology. So, I’m no luddite. My issue is that we haven’t necessarily found the filters to help us manage this bottomless cup. We have to be able to better centralise or streamline our technology use. We can easily be led by the trappings of something ‘new’ or ‘novel’ in order to keep up with the rhythm of a fragmented attention span. We are sometimes under the illusion that if we don’t check-in (ie. get that next hit of dopamine from our devices), that we might miss something. What happens in increments is our social needs start to mimic themselves in our own physiology and we may feel a sense of dread or physical uneasiness when we are suddenly without our devices. This may be part of the modern working world, but it doesn’t have to take the lead in our personal relationships. We lead by example, not by dispensing advice so it’s a good idea to reflect on our own behaviour first and then discuss it with the rest of the family. Be honest about how you use mobile technology and digital devices. Find ways to maintain a handle on the role these items play in work without letting them creep too far into family time. When you do go to the digital alter, try to make it a collective experience.  Go see a movie as a family. Share your top 5 YouTube videos of 2017, the fun gaming experiences, the vines, gifs, etc…just do it together. Don’t over-personalise your experiences on a screen to the point that everyone’s down time is spent in isolation. Yes, we all need time alone, but just remember that technology has far reaching tentacles that can keep you engaged even when you think you’re having some low-key quiet time. Instead, find ways to recharge your own batteries ‘offline’ so that when you are with family and friends, you aren’t indirectly looking for the next alert to punctuate the interactions. The ‘new normal’ doesn’t have to be a prescription for your family.


Parenting – Screen Time Rules: 

Netsafe for Parents & Families: 

Common Sense Media – Parenting:


Whatever race you are in, and whatever type of runner you might be, hopefully the finish line is well within your sight.  For some of us, that  couldn’t come soon enough and for others, the end of one race may simply signal that a new one, with different competitors and terrain to navigate, is starting up.

Wherever your journey takes you, I hope that you do manage some time for yourself, for family and for the gift of gratitude. I may be a little shellshocked from the intensity of the one-two punch of the Christmas and end of school year festivities, but I am well aware of how lucky I am to be living where and how I do in this big old world, tucked into the corner of (in my opinion), the most beautiful place on earth.

Happy holidays to all,

Andrew Cowie


Photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina – Unsplash


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