Having served as a pastor in churches, I know full well that just because words like joy, peace, merry and happy are mentioned more in the month of December doesn't make it more so. In fact, for many, the holiday season can induce more exhaustion, grief and loneliness than during any other time in the year. The Holidays Don't Always Feel Merry...
- I always pause and pray for those who are grieving for those they loved and lost this year.
- I hold concern for those whose desires and needs surpass their resources.
- I ache for those who will experience more hunger, cold and fear this winter.
- I send love to those who wish they could be close to family but are separated by war, obligations or distance.
- I feel sadness with those who feel their loneliness heightened during a season where we speak so much of friends and family.
- I wish hope for those who are gripped by fear-- fear of not having enough, being enough or living enough.
- I offer peace to those who are weary, overworked, exhausted and strained by their own expectations and the obligations of others.
So we honor those losses, disappointments, loneliness and fears.
But We Can Invite Merry-ness In Without minimizing any of the very real pain that most everyone feels a bit during these busy and high-expectation times, I just want to speak a wee bit of hope into your lives. All happiness research continues to show that our external circumstances don't create our happiness as much as our response to them does.
In fact, one study highlighted that no matter what happens in our lives, we return to the same set point. This was as true for those who won the lottery as it was for those who experienced some sort of physical paralyzing disability. The best things that happen to us give us some elation, but we return to the previous outlook with or without money. The worst thing can happen to us and the same is true, with or without our same body functions.
So if it's our response that proves most impactful as to whether our happiness set point can increase, then how can we influence our response for the positive? Certainly there are many practices that can help shape our outlook, but one of the most compelling ones to me is by surrounding ourselves with meaningful community.
By Connecting With Others There isn't a loss, disappointment or fear that friendship can't touch. Having friends doesn't prevent the pain, but it proves again and again to lessen it, to give hope through it and to provide encouragement and support in countless ways.
- Some studies have shown that people with a circle of friends recover faster from surgery than those who are unsupported.
- One study asked people carrying weights to guess the incline of the hill in front of them and those beside a friend estimated it to be less steep than those standing alone.
- Many studies illustrate our increased immunity and decreased stress levels in direct correlation to our friendships.
The work you are doing this season to invite friendships into your life will pay rich dividends in so many areas of your life. This time next year, you could have several really meaningful friendships feeding your life.
Stepping into the lives of others-- blessing them, listening to them, loving them, seeing them-- and receiving those same gifts, can transform your outlook, raising your happiness set point. I applaud you for inviting friends into you life.
This holiday season, whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, the solstice/lunar eclipse or New Years-- I honor your beautiful intentions and wish deep and meaningful friendships upon you in 2011.