How do you measure “spirit”? Some people use a calendar, flipping to merriment as they flip to December, while others feel it when Mariah Carey’s voice blasts from the radio or when they finish their Christmas lists. My sister pretty much starts celebrating the minute we pass Halloween, decorating the house with red and green paper chains and snowflakes, though I know friends who insist on holding out until Dec. 1 to start celebrating.

This year was harder for me to get in the spirit than I expected. Flipping open my computer and seeing the seemingly infinite tabs before me sparked a chill in me much stronger than the frisky one outside. All my holiday traditions became tweaked to accommodate my heavy workload, and seemed to lose a bit of its magic. It was hard to concentrate fully and be present in the December festivities.

But as a high school senior, preparing for the holidays seemed like something to savor and not pushed to the curb. It was hard to balance the workload, the pressure, the looming college application deadlines, and the want to be merry — it was hard to grasp that “spirit” the same way I had as a kid.

Soon I began to see that spirit doesn’t happen because December does — it happens in little pockets of joy every day. The spirit slowly seeped in not in a momentous event, but little acts of kindness and relief.

I felt the spirit driving through back roads with a friend just because, breaking up the stress of the school day with what I call my “Mr. Brightside Therapy,” screaming the lyrics to old songs until it was all we could hear. I felt it in the red, comfy chairs during a spontaneous Sunday night movie, and on a walk down the beach with a friend at golden hour, watching my golden retriever chase seagulls into the Sound.

Just as growing up changes what it means to be a student, a friend, and a person, it changes the holidays, too. But that does not have to be a bad thing. This year, it wasn’t the thrill of Christmas itself that made me spirited, but the joy that came from talking to family I hadn’t seen in months. It didn’t come from making a Christmas list, but by carefully selecting and purchasing meaningful gifts for my friends and family and seeing their faces glow as they opened it. It was in the magic that came from being around family and friends for no other reason than because I could.

To me, spirit isn’t limited to a month or instigated by an event. It’s losing track of time with the people you love. It’s peace.

In choosing to feel the love around me instead of the items on my to-do list, I felt utterly and completely happy. I felt the spirit. With 2018 over and 2019 having begun, it’s so important to remember to see the joy in everyday life. Though holiday celebrations may be finished, the spirit doesn’t have to end. Intersect your daily stress and routine with that phone call to a loved one, or take time to watch that special movie instead of exhausting yourself with work. Take that spontaneous trip with a friend or do something that makes you happy. Remember it’s okay to be something more than a to-do list. Look for opportunities for that special spirit to seep into your life, and when it arrives, enjoy every second. Because it's the people around us, and the memories we make, that makes all the stress worth it.

Lily Kepner is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.