It’s the morning of Christmas Eve, and I’m up early as usual. Everyone else is asleep. This is my morning time. A time to reflect, a time to write about my reflections. A time to put my thoughts to the screen. And like so many Christmas Eve’s before this one, I’m at peace with myself, my family, my neighbors, and everything around me.
I live a life of relative peace, and have been for more than a decade now. I can’t explain all of it, but I can explain my part in it. Much of what experience, day to day, is beyond my control, but I am not a mere observer. I am a participant in every way, and I use the power of introspection every day.
I use the power of introspection to observe myself. To check in. Am I hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? If I am any of those, I take a step back and stop what I’m doing. I might even find a quiet room and settle down. Get something to eat if I need it. Take a nap if I need it.
And if I’m angry at someone, I remind myself that my anger is unjustified. I remind myself that there are no victims, only volunteers. I remind myself that it is up to me to defuse that anger, to make a choice not to be angry. And to let the feelings pass. For those who would irritate me, I am reminded that their behavior is just a stage of their development.
I don’t get visibly angry very often, for I am keenly aware of the dynamics of anger. I know the sour taste of revenge well. I know that sarcasm, criticism and punishment don’t work because engaging in any of those activities would relieve me of my duty, distract me from my duty to know my part in it. Besides, engaging in sarcasm, criticism or punishment will only escalate the tension.
For all the joy in the holiday songs we play and sing, Christmas is a tense period for many in America. Many of us don’t have the money for gifts. Many of us are going into debt to buy gifts. Many will get no gifts at all. And it is this expectation that something outside of us will bring us happiness, that expectation is the cause of most of our suffering. For even if we got everything that we wanted, we would still be faced with the choice to be happy with everything we have, right now, without reservation.
If that other person would change, I would be happy. If I could get X, I would be happy. If my life would change, I would be happy. If someone would love me, I would be happy. And then we wait for that change. We agitate for that thing, that event, that gift, and it doesn’t come. How do we become happy?
Happiness has been defined in so many ways, that I think it’s confusing, so I devised my own definition:
Happiness is the feeling of contentment knowing that my needs are met, and that I am resilient enough to get my needs met when I need to.
I think my definition has changed over the years, but that is the latest version. Happiness is knowing what our needs are, knowing how to articulate them, and then acting on that need in a way that doesn’t require the use of force to get our needs met. I don’t believe in using force to get my needs met. So I say the word “please” before every request. I make no demands, only requests.
And if I don’t get my needs met where I am now, I go where the love is. Often I go inside for compassion, for understanding, for an action plan. I don’t believe it is anyone else’s job to make me happy. That job is mine and mine alone. Before I got married I was already well on that road. I now know that people can only add to my happiness, and that they can’t make me happy. I have to do that trick in my mind to find a way to be happy.
Happiness is a decision I make, every day, every hour, every minute. The bar to happiness in my mind is pretty low, so it’s easy for me to get back to that place, even after an upset or disturbance in my life. Knowing that I can get back to that place of happiness, or more precisely, contentment, is what makes it easier for me to be of service to others.
If I do something to make another person’s life better, in some small way, my life gets better. I’ve seen this over and over. It always comes back. I see the universe as a set of inputs and outputs. If you put anger into a system, you get anger. If you put humor into a system, you get humor back. That system is usually the family or fellowship. We are all struggling to learn our lessons, so there is no need to make anyone else suffer just because I’m suffering. So I let the feeling pass if I need to, and put something positive into the pot.
That something positive could be a happy zinger, encouragement, a hug, a small gift, or whatever I can muster, for someone else. And those little things count. Those little things add up. And those little things pay me back with interest. Human interest.
This is the part where I wish for peace on earth for everyone. If we’re not in peace, it’s just a stage of our development. It’s not forever. The lesson will be repeated until it is learned. So if you make a mistake, don’t worry, you’ll get another chance to get it right. Peace is like that. We get many chances to make peace. And don’t worry about making mistakes. Next week no one will remember.
I remember the small gifts people gave to me. The books. The hugs. The encouragement. I do that for my family every day. I do that for my neighbors when I see them. I am planting the seeds of peace every day, not for just for me, but for my kids, too. I don’t wait for Christmas to wish for peace and goodwill for everyone. I’ve been doing that all year.