Dealing with Holiday Blues
By Mary Desaulniers
A runner for 27 years, retired schoolteacher and writer, Mary is now doing what she loves -- running, writing, helping people reclaim their bodies. Nutrition, exercise, positive vision and purposeful engagement are the tools used to turn their bodies into creative selves. Copyright 2005-2017, Mary Desaulniers.
After the usual pre-Christmas and post holiday celebrations, I found myself feeling a bit depressed and lethargic. The house has become too quiet; friends and family have returned home.
It is not uncommon that we end the holiday season with a sense of letdown. This is probably due to our unrealistic expectation that holiday events can provide us with lasting happiness despite the fact that we know deep down it is impossible for us to be happy all the time.
Even the happiest of people feel blue at times. What is more, feeling blue can actually be good for you. Research shows that mild to moderate doses of negative experience are beneficial to growth and development. Studies have shown that animals that were moderately stressed when young fared better as adults in recovering from stress. Difficult situations have made them more resilient by giving them opportunities to practice bouncing back from traumatic events. Studies of people who have undergone life-altering trauma reveal a similar resiliency. Those who lose their limbs to devastating accidents tend to bounce back in due time. One study found that those who were injured in accidents felt severely angry and victimized after the first week. However, after 8 weeks, most revealed that happiness was their strongest emotion - a situation that demonstrates how adaptable the human mind can be. It also suggests that happiness is not necessarily tied to circumstance, but to the "interpretation" we give to that circumstance.
By the same token, fortunate events can trigger intense happiness, but this state of intense happiness is never lasting. A study of lottery winners done in 1978 found that while the winners experienced a brief period of intense happiness, they returned to their pre-lottery state in due time and did not wind up significantly happier than a control group of subjects who won nothing.
Study after study shows that happiness is not founded on what is normally considered marks of prestige or pleasure. Money (and all that money can buy) does not contribute to lasting happiness. Neither does a good education or youth. In fact, older people (who have probably developed more resilience) seem on the whole to be more satisfied with life than young people are.
However, what does create lasting happiness has a lot to do with a sense of purpose and meaning in life. In his book, "Authentic Happiness, psychologist Martin Seligman claims that engagement ( involvement with family, work, hobbies) and meaning ( using personal strength to serve some larger end) are more significant factors to happiness than the pursuit of pleasure. Studies also show that those who are spiritually and communally involved tend to experience more frequently positive emotions and an overall sense of satisfaction with life. What accentuates this satisfaction is the sense of purpose and larger context that religious beliefs provide.
So what can you do to improve your happiness quotient, especially after the holidays
1. Eliminate the either/or mentality that insists you are either happy or sad. This rigid either /or perception does not make room for the flexibility required to see joy in unhappy events. Even the most tragic of events can be a source of good and it is this insistence that you see good in all situations, even the most disastrous ones, that will predispose you to experience joy. In the aftermath of September 11, victims who survive can remember the horror of the destruction, but also the courage and inspiration of heroes whose heroism remains indestructible. In my case, I began to see the empty house as an opportunity for new growth through meditation and writing.
2. Move away from the victim mentality. You tend to grieve more intensely when you are unwilling to let go of yourself as victim. If you can shift away from being victimized, you can be in a much better position to see how the situation can also be a source of good. Remaining flexible in your perception is the key to resilience.
3. Cultivate an awareness of the silent witness - that is, taking a third party view of yourself. Imagine you as someone watching your "self" from a third party perspective. Detaching yourself from your ego can give you a totally different view of your situation.
4. Nurture a sense of history and time in the way you look at yourself - that is, identify a purpose in your life and develop strategies to achieve it. This purpose will make you more proactive in the way you view your situation. It will also allow you to engage in long-term vision and goals. Oprah Winfrey once said that it was her extreme devastation at age 16 (the victim of family abuse) that made her vow she would never be victim again. And she was never victim again; in fact, what is remarkable about Oprah is that she has not stopped re-inventing herself and the contexts of her purpose in life.
Ultimately, our happiness quotient is dependent not on how much we get, but how much we give. The way we see the context of our lives as a whole is often a good place to examine how and what we can give back to our community and the universe that nurtured us.
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