Exercise Your Happiness Muscle

Happy, Healthy Holidays

Holiday lights at Crane’s Roost, Altamonte Springs, Florida
Crane’s Roost, Altamonte Springs, Florida

Of all the holidays we have here in the US, Thanksgiving is my favorite. I like it because it hasn’t been completely corrupted by the rampant commercialism that has usurped the true meaning and intent of Christmas. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, being mindful of the good in our lives, enjoying the company of family and friends, enjoying food (lots of food), but most of all it’s about being present, being in the moments that tends to be the most meaningful in our often harried lives.

For those of you not familiar with the holiday, Thanksgiving, as it was taught to me in grade school, celebrates the survival of a set of European settlers/refugees who left England because of religious persecution. These “Pilgrims” were apparently poorly equipped to deal with life in the wilderness of what is now Massachusetts, a state in the north-east US. 

As the story goes, the local Native Americans felt sorry for these poor souls and helped them survive their first year (and are likely regretting it ever since). To celebrate their survival and new found friends the Pilgrims organized a big feast and Native Americans and Pilgrims broke bread, communed and gave thanks for what they had. 

Of course, there’s a lot more to the story and over the years a lot of poetic license has obfuscated the true events surrounding the Pilgrims and their Native American hosts, but the general idea of feasting, communing, and giving thanks is what the holiday has come to mean. It’s celebrated in Autumn because that’s when crops are harvested and preparations are made to survive the winter. 

While I don’t much care for the story of the supposed First Thanksgiving, I do like and practice the concepts of giving thanks, being mindful, and appreciating and enjoying my friends and family. It is what contributes to my general happiness.

I read an article recently titled ‘Yale Happiness Professor on 5 Things That Will Make You Happy’, written by Laurie Santos,  Professor of Psychology at Yale University, that outlined 5 concepts that, if practiced and incorporated in our lives, should lead to a happier existence. The very short version of her list is as follows:

  • Being Social: Get out and be with friend and family, even if it’s done remotely.
  • Being Thankful: Focus on the good in your life and appreciate it.
  • Being in the Moment: Try not to worry about past or future events, instead focus and enjoy what’s going on now.
  • Rest and Exercise: Getting adequate rest and getting off the couch keeps you physically and mentally strong and positive.
  • Being Kind: Sometimes it’s easier to say it than to do it, but acts of kindness, no matter how small, enhances our wellbeing and the wellbeing of those who receive our acts of kindness.

(It’s a good article and well worth time to read it.)

A quick review of that list and you can see that celebrating Thanksgiving checks off almost all of the items. So, yay! Go Thanksgiving!

My daughter, however, likes to remind me that her favorite holiday is Christmas. She loves the trappings of the holiday; the lights, the music, the festive atmosphere, the gift giving and the anticipation and joy my grandson experiences. My friend, Rita, also reminds me of the religious significance of the holiday. Being a devout Catholic, it is one of Rita’s most favorite holidays as she enjoys and participates in the pageantry and inspiration that affirms her faith in often spectacular ways.

20 meter (about 70 feet) Christmas Tree in Crane’s Roost, Altamonte Springs Florida.

In deference to the opinions of these, two of my favorite people, I will admit that, for me at least, Christmas comes in a close second to Thanksgiving as a favorite holiday. I do enjoy gift giving, the lights and pageantry that is found in no other holiday. I also like the fact that Christmas, or the festive nature associated with this time of year, whatever the reason, is celebrated worldwide. 

As nearly everyone is well aware, 2020 has been so full of stress that it threatens to spill over into 2021. It’s become increasing tougher to remain positive, especially when several items on the Happiness List above are a challenge to achieve, but I implore you to try. Even if it’s just a small act of kindness. In fact, if you’re feeling curmudgeonly negative or stressed, or just feel the need to brighten your day, that’s how you should start.

Lights on Park Avenue, Winter Park, Florida

Let that guy pull into traffic ahead of you, open the door for the woman behind you, chat up a stranger while standing in line (while practicing safe social distancing, of course), find something to compliment a person on, then compliment him or her. It doesn’t matter if the object of your kindness is someone you wouldn’t normally engage, it doesn’t cost anything except a few seconds of thought and maybe a few more seconds of effort. You may not be immediately overwhelmed by a glow of positivity for your good deeds, but in time the resulting benefit will become apparent and you find it is well worth the effort.

Make it a habit and you’ll enjoy the benefits all year long, and the other items on the Happiness List won’t be so hard to achieve. It’s kind of like a muscle, a Happiness Muscle. Exercise it and it will get stronger. Soon you’ll be an Arnold Schwarzenegger of Happiness.

So, in the spirit of this holiday season, I wish joy, health and huge bulging biceps of happiness to you and yours.

Stay tuned,

Vern

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