Holidays

The Holidays Don't Always Feel Merry

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.

Blessings, Shasta

Gratitude, Not Jealousy

Expressing gratitude, which all of November is always that for me, is a powerful practice when it comes to fostering new friendships. When we're not grateful, we tend to be much more susceptible to jealousy, envy and competition. It doesn't take an expert to see how those characteristics might not contribute to healthy friendships! I notice that when I'm grateful and have a sense of my own well-being, I show up in relationship better. It has something to do with self-esteem, but also simply holding a peace about my own life, that invites me to not feel threatened by theirs. I watch over-and-over in others, and myself, how easy it is to project my own insecurities on them.

And wow are holidays a breeding ground for jealousy and discontent! None of our families are perfect. Most of us will experience some form of loneliness. Our expectations go up. Our stress goes up. Our desire to project the perfect, happy, festive smile increase. Our finances won't be enough. Nor will our time feel adequate. Our energy will feel threatened many times over. We will feel losses acutely at this time of year. And regret the gap between where we thought we'd be this year and where we really are. And it will be easy to think that everyone else has the perfect life and that you are the only one lacking.

The Effects of Jealousy If I'm not happy with being single then it's harder to want to be at holidays parties with couples. If I struggle with my weight then it will annoy me to have my skinny friends complain about not fitting into their little black dress this season. If I'm exhausted by being up every night with a teething toddler then it's easier for me to judge others who seemingly have an easier life. If my husband and I are going through a rough patch then I tend to feel more frustrated with other couples expressing public displays of affection. If I don't have kids, I get more annoyed by others who aren't willing to get a baby-sitter to come to a party I am throwing. If I am working overtime this season, I'll feel anger at the women who seem to have all the time in the world to be baking and crafting all month. You get the idea.

Jealousy. It's one of those tricky and counter-intuitive feelings. For it's easy to mistake the feeling as something that someone else is doing wrong and be frustrated with them. But really, it's reminding us that we have an issue that matters to us. It's not about them. It's our own stuff. How we react says more about our story than it does about theirs.

Certainly their action might trigger the feeling. But we'd be wrong to assume that they did something wrong, when in fact, the moment serves as an opportunity to me that I need to look at my own life and ask "What is it that I want?" And just as important, "can I be around people who have that without holding it against them?"

The Opportunity to Respond to Jealousy The real question comes down to whether someone else's happiness threatens my own. In other words, can I figure out a way to not only show up with gratitude for what I have and hope to have, but can I also show up with with gratitude for what they have?

This season, I invite you to step into awareness in two areas:

  1. First, increase your gratitude. Keep a daily journal if you can, where you write five things down every day. Or, make one long list today where you force yourself to list up to 50 things. Look back over the year and identify milestones you're glad you reached, moments that mattered, growth in your life that you witnessed. You may not have what you want yet, but what little glimpses gave you hope that you might reach your goal? For example, with friends, you may not yet have that circle of local friends that nurture your life, but you can celebrate that you joined GirlFriendCircles to do something about it!
  2. Second, increase your awareness around your jealousy. When you feel jealous, use the moment to ask yourself why you feel so judgmental. What do you feel is missing in your life? As you take more responsibility for your feelings, you'll gain awareness about who you are and have more opportunity to respond to that desire in positive ways. Don't beat yourself up! Just gently hold those moments as touchstones that remind you of who you want to become and what you want to invite into your life this upcoming year. And own it for yourself. No need to punish others. Their joy will not diminish or steal from mine. There is enough joy in this world for all of us.

May I invite you to expand your gratitude this season where you hold your life with hope and contentment? May I invite to pay attention to your stuff and not risk it bleeding onto potential friends? May I invite you to not rule out spending time with people because you feel threatened around them from your jealousy? May I invite you to be generous to the mistakes that others will undoubtedly make this time of year out of their own insecurities? May I invite you to forgive quickly when others say things unknowingly that trigger your own fears and insecurities? May I invite you to show up with the best of you this holiday season-- celebrating the best in others and yourself?

Above all, trusting that the promise of Thanksgiving, if nothing else, is one of abundance. There is enough. Enough joy for all of us. May we want the happiness of others as much as we want it for ourselves. That's my wish for us all this month!