Not Happy, Jan!

Yellow Plush Toy

Three things prompted this blog.

  • The first was Christmas.
  • The second was an article on how Americans are chasing happiness more than ever, as it eludes them even further.
  • The third was New Year’s resolutions.

I know they look totally unrelated, but bear with me just a little longer (OK, it might take a while, but the connection is there.  Sort of.)

I usually buy everyone’s gifts for Christmas. When I say everyone, I mean family, friends, husband, daughter and yes, my own.  With my own, I tend to give it to my husband a few days before, who then dutifully wraps it, adds a card and puts it under the tree.

This year Miss Dee wanted a Rubik’s cube. Was she sure? Yep, she was sure. That was what she wanted. And, she added, she had done her research and it was cheapest at BIG W.

Usually I get really creative and I manage to find something interesting and useful. Not this year. Work went on for a bit longer and it was really busy (if this sounds like an excuse, it’s because it is.) so I found myself the day before Christmas sans gifts for my husband, my mum in law and myself. Thank goodness for the Rubik’s cube and BIG W.

So that got me thinking, did it matter if there were no gifts under the tree? I quickly found my thoughts at war.  It went something like this:

  • This is Christmas; you have to have gifts under the tree!
  • Yes, but wasn’t Christmas about celebrating with your loved ones, not about gifts? Gifts are just material stuff and not what is important.
  • Yes, but remember the three wise men and their gifts. There is a reason for those. It shows love, thoughtfulness and caring.
  • But they don’t want/need anything? What’s the point?

I won’t bore you any further. It actually went on for longer than that, but you get the gist.

In the end, tradition won. My mum in law got a new phone (one that is easy to use).  I gave my husband a sealed envelope for mine and had an identical one for him. He asked me what he was giving me. I told him I couldn’t tell him because it would give away his.

It wasn’t just tradition though.  The point is the shared fun, the surprise, the mutual giving.  Gifts are just an element of that, but a valid one (particularly thoughtful or homemade ones).

So this takes me on to the happiness link. The pursuit of happiness has become quite trendy.  Associated with this is the eschewing of material things (with lots of warning about the younger generation and their wanting more and more) and a lot of Mindfulness, (which in my simple view is just another word for meditation, but whatever).

Being happy has become the goal. People are spending time in (and money on) all sorts of classes to help them achieve this nirvana state. I think it’s partly at least in response to our world’s shift towards more disposable everything and “I need the next new thing pronto” attitude that is so prevalent.

People, however, have started to realise that the pursuit of material things is in fact making them unhappy*. Hence the search for something else.

As human beings we seem wired towards the next thing.  It’s really hard to stop wanting more. The positive side of this is the pursuit of constant improvement. The negative side is the emphasis on “things” rather than “self” (as in learning, sharing) or “others” (as in helping, caring, educating).

Things don’t lead to happiness, relationships do.

Which leaves point number three: New Year’s resolutions.

I was with some colleagues the other day and one asked what our New Year’s resolutions were. Only two people came forward. One wanted to lose weight, the other develop a four pack (Yeah, I know, weird, but maybe more pragmatic than six for a woman.) “Come on,” the colleague who introduced the topic said, “surely you all have some resolutions.” I said, “If you want something you just do it, you don’t need a New Year’s resolution for that.” He responded with “But it’s a time for reflection so that’s when you make decisions.” He had a point, but I thought that:

  • It’s possible to make time for reflection throughout the year and make things happen as you need them to.
  • New Year’s resolutions tend to die pretty quickly after the first month or so (studies show around a 92% to 95% failure rate). My dance class, for example, starts losing students by the end of February. By July only the committed remain.
  • It’s better to break goals down into smaller milestones. Milestones keep you grounded and in the present.

OK, so how does this all tie together?

Things don’t lead to happiness, but Christmas is about the tradition and the experiences that go with gift giving. It is part of relationship building, which leads to a good life* (see link to TEDx talk below).

You don’t need a New Year’s resolution for self-improvement and achievement, just commitment.

I don’t pursue happiness, nor is it one of my goals. I aim for a state of contentment. I define contentment as enjoying what I have and being grateful (without having to remind myself that I am). Contentment is not a destination, but an active state.  It needs to be nourished by continuous learning and growth.

Bottom line: Nurture your relationships and live life to the full, not in the pursuit of anything, but in the enjoyment of the journey.

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

Lao Tzu


“It’s never too late to make a New Year’s Resolution.”

Miss Dee’s Dad

*Happiness Ruth Whippman

*What makes a good life

P.S. In case someone doesn’t get the blog’s title: Title Origin

1 comment on “Not Happy, Jan!

  1. It’s a sorrowful state of the masses that this needs to be stated, however, they wait at the automatic feeder to know what they should be persuing, acting, reacting, buying…..

    It is however comfortable for the majority, and has happened for years and years (just the theory, think ‘keeping up with the jones’, gets re-packaged for a new generation to own and think it’s a new concept – it ain’t.

    Anyway, think I’ll go for a surf to get some mindfulness, mediation or to escape the Madding Crowd (refer Thomas Hardy (1874), who took it from Grays Elegy (1749), who took it from Drummond of Hawthornden (1614) – everything just gets re-invented with little original thought. 😀

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