Holidays are neither good nor bad; how we think about them makes the difference.

Over the years, I’ve written on more than one occasion about the impact of the holiday season.  The generic topic for these commonly-written pieces is “holiday depression.” This week’s entry will seek to put a new face on an old, but important, issue.

“Holiday depression” has its origin in the false belief that, as the seasonal music preaches, “It’s the happiest time of the year.” However, it is also a stressful time and one that triggers sad memories.  Our mixed feelings about this six-week window can be confusing and anxiety-raising.

Ok, that’s the summary of our past legitimate insights into the season.  But what is the new view of this important topic?  Instead of focusing on what saddens us, let’s examine how we turn the tables on this topic.  I believe that answer can be found in the writings of Dr. Martin Seligman and Gary Chapman and their research into what does give us happiness.

Happiness, according to Seligman, comes from three sources.  All are acceptable in that they do not involve negative or addictive characteristics.  They are arranged according to their ability to make us happy.  The first source is pleasure.  Simply posed, what do you like?  Is it ice cream, a cold drink on a hot day or, perhaps, the initial view of something memorable like the Grand Canyon. We enjoy all three, but we rather quickly become accustomed to them.   The first scoop of cookie dough tastes better than the last one.  The initial first mouthful of ice water is more satisfying than the second.  And the initial panorama of the Grand Canyon is more awe-striking than the same image 30 minutes later.  There’s nothing wrong with these pleasures.  They are simply satiating.  We become accustomed to them quickly.

The second source of happiness, according to Dr. Seligman, comes from activities in which we can immerse ourselves.  What do you enjoy? What pastime or project makes the hours fly by? Is it reading, golfing, fishing, gardening, or simply looking at the water from the shore.   This second source of pleasure has a more enduring quality to it than transitory pleasure.

The third source of pleasure, and the best one, comes from immersing ourselves in an activity that generates a benefit for someone else.  It may be a child, friend, partner, or someone in need.  Or you may be fortunate enough to have a a career that involves serving others.  This form of happiness exceeds the first two sources listed earlier.

OK, but what does this have to do with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s?  Simply this.  Sadness and depression, be it during the holidays or whenever, always involves turning within.  Seligman’s point about the highest level of happiness is that it is found with others.  It’s a true symbiotic relationship; we give to others and derive the ultimate source of happiness for ourselves.

This, hopefully, makes sense. But how do I accomplish that goal, exactly?  Good point.  Seligman has provided us with the pathway to happiness but neglected to provide a detailed roadmap for getting there. 

In the next newsletter, we will outline a method and strategy to arrive at our destination: happiness.

“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.” – Albert Pike