Noun into Verb
Happiness is as ephemeral as anger, as pain. Because we crave it more doesn’t make it easier to attain than those less desirable but fully human emotions. Hit any bookstore and you’ll find dozens of titles on how to become Happy, right alongside books on how to deal with your pain or marginalize your anger. But for all the thought we give to what we want and how to get it, relatively few of us get to old age any better at making ourselves (lowercase) happy than succumbing to a grumbling melancholy. One of the tragic ironies of life may be that the most quintessentially pleasurable moments we’ve felt ~ as children running wild, as travelers the first time abroad, as lovers in the arms of our first infatuation ~ cannot be duplicated, except in paler versions.
Perhaps if we were better at knowing why the heart wants what it wants we’d live more fulfilled lives. Instead, most of us settle for a self-serving definition of happiness the culture presents as aspirational ~ we know that to be rich and famous isn’t the route to satisfaction and security, yet rare is the person who won’t take either when offered. Throughout our lives the people who choose to serve and protect ~ first responders, teachers, healers, volunteers ~ are the ones we reach out to first in times of trouble. Why is it then, for too many of us, the only time of year we acknowledge the importance of giving is at Christmas?
Even for non-Christians, it's a holiday that speaks to the better angels in all of us. Because it’s about family, hearth and food, it recognizes the need to share a communal spirit that has goodwill embedded in its DNA. Sure, the conspicuous consumption part dumbs it down. And yes, the desire to hang fairy lights, decorate the tree and festoon gifts in gay attire comes as part of a mixed bag which can also include obnoxious relatives, too much traffic and a depleted bank account. Doesn’t matter ~ Christmas provides an opportunity to make peace, enchant the little ones, lavish those who have been good to us with an extra measure of joy. Whether you buy it or make it or simply will it into existence, it encourages a particular kind of hopefulness which only children seem to come by naturally but most adults need a yearly holiday to remember. To work selflessly for a greater good does not promise financial rewards or glory, to be sure. What it does offer is a connection between doing good and feeling good, the possibility that through virtuous deeds you find something which ultimately shines longer and brighter than bling. The good news is that to be hopeful IS a choice. While we (mostly) do not get to choose what happens to us in life, we never lose the ability to choose what we believe in, and to act on those beliefs.
In the wake of the tragedies in Newtown, which we all know by now could have happened in any town, we have an opportunity this holiday season, as we hug our loved ones close and contemplate how best to keep them safe, to consider the values that truly strengthen us as human beings, and to work towards realizing those values more fully all year, long after Santa has left the building.
All text Jil Hales. Photos/Graphics: Dawid Jaworski, (a stealth) Kirsten Petrie