Most of us are searching for happiness but are we any happier than our ancestors were? Have you ever been to third world countries, where poverty is rife and you are met with smiling faces everywhere and wondered “how can you be so happy when you have so little?” Almost everything about British and European life is getting better ranging from public health, life expectancy,and reduced armed conflicts and nuclear warheads. But are we any happier? Probably not. Research suggests that money does not buy happiness except to bring the poor over the minimum standard of living. "Stuff" for most of us becomes desired for the brief pleasure of acquisition, then stored and finally binned.
Christmas has become so commercial that we become fixated with gift buying and responding to the media calling for all the material things that we should have to make us more beautiful, sexy, younger, more sophisticated or have greater fun or comfort in or lives. And the list goes on.
What is happiness?
Many people believe that they should feel happy all or most of the time, particularly at Christmas time. To expect to feel good and happy all the time isn't possible for most people. Money does not bring happiness. Happiness is a state, it isn't long lasting nor a permanent feature but a more fleeting and changeable state. Happiness is usually about pleasure and contentment. Most people find happiness through relationships, their work, belonging to a group or being active in their community. Happiness describes feelings of joy, contentment, positive well-being and feeling life is good and meaningful. Many of us experience happiness by giving to others.
“Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” ” Happy people focus on what they have, unhappy people focus on what’s missing.” (Richard Branson)
Christmas time is a wonderful opportunity to practice appreciation for what we have and what we are given rather than focussing on what we don't have. David Steindl-Rast says "in daily life, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy. He goes on to remind us that no matter how many goodies are lavished upon us in life, unless we are grateful for them we are still beggars at heart.
The act of sharing can be a social experience, in which we literally share our wealth, material possessions or food. It can also be an emotional experience, we share with others the inner reality of our feelings, our thoughts and ideas. Giving, receiving and sharing is how we acknowledge that we are part of a greater whole. No man or woman is an island. If you are willing to give more of yourself with others, you will feel good about yourself, maybe even happy and feel a deeper connection with life which can bring happiness.
Many people are takers not givers. One man proudly told me some years ago that he had never done a good deed in his life for anyone. My response was that he was a poorer man because of it. There is so much greed, discontentment, envy, hatred and violence in the world, within our families and communities. Many of these problems could be resolved if we were prepared to give gladly and share fairly.
What is desire?
Desire is a longing for happiness, peace and contentment and this search motivates every human endeavour, particularly at Christmas time. Have you every noticed that whenever you get what you want another desire springs up? Our mind is insatiable and no matter what you get, achieve or accumulate the mind never says “that’s enough.” From childhood our minds have been trained to externalise happiness. We try to find it in the perfect relationship, in our work, having exciting holidays or owning a nice car. Every desire captures within us a conviction that the fulfilment of it will bring us lasting happiness. It can bring us joy but this may be short lasting. Desire is based on the belief that we are incomplete and need extra. When our desires are not met we are likely to react with frustration.
In summary, happiness means that we
feel calm, at peace with one’s self and to live in the present.
appreciate and value the small things and feel grateful for what we have
live in the moment because then the past and future are not distracting us from valuing our current experience
feel grateful for what we have rather than focussing on what we do not have
question our desires to find the underlying reasons why we want something more. For example a new dress or new car might mean we want greater self esteem or more acknowledgement from others
If we are really unhappy with our lives then we need to make changes. We can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results.
Giving gladly is a virtue which we can practice daily and can make us richer and happier. Whether you have much or little, give and share willingly and gladly A mysterious power within will ensure we never the lack the means to give joyfully. The world can only give us something if we in return give first. If we want to receive we must give: knowledge, praise, money, happiness and ourselves. So what better time to start giving and receiving than at Christmas time.