My creative husband made the porch smile this year.

To be avoided if possible: perfect gifts, kitchen slavery, mandatory cheerfulness. “Friends and family” is a familiar phrase this time of year, but not everyone has family or friends that can or even want to spend time together. Advertising and social media makes it look like everyone is enjoying these heartfelt moments and memories, but in real life people often feel very sad and alone. And all those scenes of families toasting, talking and laughing together only accentuates the aloneness. Holiday time for them isn’t all about smiling faces, warm fuzzy feelings, or friends clinking glasses.

My mission, as the old saying goes, is to “turn that frown upside down”. It’s so satisfying to make a grumpy face smile, especially this time of year. My secret challenge when confronted by someone who looks like they’re having a really bad day is to elicit some trace of a smile because I know this small gesture can turn that mood around. And I just hope that my perky porch is lifting many moods in my own nose-to-the-grindstone neighborhood. Yay.

In all my years of striking up conversations with strangers, there’s hardly a time they haven’t responded in-kind. I’ve been in plenty of bad moods myself and know it’s difficult not to return a smile, even when conversation feels impossible at the time. And if their grump reflects a really bad YEAR and life is in the toilet for them, remember that it’s all amplified by the expectations of the season.

I still get sucked into the commercial world of holiday hoopla occasionally, but it’s still disturbing that I could be so easily distracted from what matters to me most: my dear sweet husband, terrific children and their children, special friends and, really, people I barely know. Imagining the faces of the people I cherish always eases any stress I feel, so I hope this week will be full of comforts… for you, your family, and the people in your life that matter most.