The holidays are upon us. For some that means spending time catching up with friends and enjoying family. For quite a few others, it is the most miserable time of the year. Employment issues, personal tragedies and loneliness are among the many factors finding people dreading the holiday season. And this year, on top of potentially stressful gatherings and heart-breaking reminders of lost loved ones that can creep up around this time, there are also many people who are still recovering from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Nearly three weeks after this natural disaster ravished the entire east coast, there are more than 16,000 people who still do not have power, not to mention the 209 people who died in seven different countries and the $50 billion worth of damage to houses and businesses the storm caused.

Needless to say, 2012 has been a rough year for many people, and you might be one of them.

So if you are one of those people having a rough time and not looking forward to this season of “gratitude,” what do you do?  Many people would tell you to “think of the less fortunate” during times of sadness, but why would comparing your situation with someone with even more problems than you have make you feel any better?  It doesn’t make your pain or problems any less real or valid because someone else has it worse.  But what might actually make you feel better is not just to think but to do something for someone else who needs your help.

And I’m not talking about just donating money to the Red Cross (though this organization is doing amazing things for the victims of Sandy). This holiday season, if you are physically able to, go out and spend some time with forgotten people—even if you feel like a forgotten person yourself. Check out this database of homeless shelters and soup kitchens, find one near you and find out how you can volunteer some time there. Visit a nursing home or hospice center in your area and see what you can do to help out.  Just listening to patients who have no one else to talk to and no one to visit them could lift their spirits – and yours. These are not novel ideas, but they work.  They work because they give us an opportunity to get out of our own head and be an ingredient in someone else’s happiness. The joy you bring to another person’s life has no choice but to rub off on you too. And it can completely change the way you deal with sadness or loneliness in the future.

That brings me to the one thing everyone can be grateful for, no matter what your situation may be: time to change. Every time we get to see a new day that was never promised to us, we are gifted an opportunity to seek out a different course.  We can swallow our pride and mend fences with estranged loved ones.  We can change past behaviors and we can make new mistakes.  We can seek out professional help if our problems are feeling like too much for us to handle alone. And we can recommit ourselves to our goals and dreams because with each day, we get a little bit more time and just one more chance to do it differently.

If that is the only thing we have left to hold on to—the hope of just one more day—that’s reason enough for us all to be grateful.