For some, December hits and stress ensues. On the heels of a newly-published Harvard/UCSD "happiness" report, Dr. Laurie explains how discovering and focusing on what makes us happy can actually alleviate some of that tension.
How happy are you?
This is the season for joy and light and Thanksgiving, but for some, the pressure of "to do's" overwhelms the deep spiritual nature of the month.
We feel burdened, not blessed.
In addition, those who live with pain and the frustration of tricky health conditions find that this time may almost mock them with its insistence on cheer and endless activities.
While I was pondering this tension, I came across a newly-published study about how contagious happiness is.
The researchers, from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego found that there is a social network effect of happiness. It happens over "three degrees of separation."
When someone becomes happy, a friend living within a mile has a 25 percent chance of becoming happy, a next-door neighbor has a 34 percent chance, a sibling living within a mile has a 14 percent chance, and co-resident spouse has an 8 percent chance.
The amazing (and slightly weird) contagion effect shows that a friend of your friend has a 10 percent chance of increased happiness, and a friend of that friend, a 5.6 percent chance.
Isn't that amazing how happiness spreads over social networks?
You might wonder about the opposite. Does sadness spread? The answer is: not so much.
Let's concentrate on the good news: we can help each other feel better by attending to our own happiness.
How might we do that?
You could start by becoming aware of when you are happy. What lifts your spirits? What are you thinking about that brings a spring to your step, or a grin to your face?
On a deeper level, what is it that kindles a warm glow of joy or a profound sense of rightness with the world? When do your eyes soften and your heart open?
I have begun to keep a gratitude list. It's an easy discipline: I write down five things that happened during the day that make me grateful. These turn out to be simple things, and also, very ordinary. But more times than not, I find that I am writing down the names of people in my life, my family and friends who I see regularly.
I realized that they are the ones who make me happy, give me a sense of gratitude for my life. But this isn't how I live.
When I examine how I spend my time, I see that I live my days in fast-forward motion, with the idea that completing my to-do list or accomplishing a project is what is most important to me.
But my gratitude journal tells me otherwise.
It reminds me that watching the birds at the feeder, a conversation with my son, or tea with my elderly neighbor create a grateful heart -- and a feeling of happiness.
How does this connect with arthritis and the holidays?
We can decide that we have a duty to be happy this season. Maybe the best gift we can give -- one that spreads and multiplies -- is to deepen our happiness. We find that sweet spot by paying attention and giving our energy to what matters -- choosing to do what pays happiness dividends (and then saying no to other things).
If keeping a list helps you pay attention, great. Or being mindful through your day. You can also keep track of what makes you unhappy and begin to eliminate those things.
This is a season to receive and nourish our light so that it shines brightly for others.
Let go of the old, and bring in the happy! Blessed season to you all.
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