While every Christmas song may tell us this is the season to be jolly, I find that the holiday season can actually be one of the most overwhelming times of the year. Between entertaining, traveling, buying the perfect gifts, balancing the checkbook and still trying to take care of our other responsibilities, this time of the year can quickly lead us into a stress-filled frenzy.
So how can we make this holiday season a truly merry one?
I read a great article recently from the Huffington Post in which they interviewed George Vaillant, director of a 75-year Harvard research study on happiness from 1972 to 2004. The study, known as the Grant Study, is one of the longest longitudinal studies on mental and physical well-being in history, and this particular interview summarized some of the study’s important findings on what leads to a happy life.
What I found intriguing about this article and the study itself is that they reveal what the Bible has been teaching us about true happiness for thousands of years. Below are three lessons Huffington Post highlighted from the Grant Study that I believe we can apply to our spiritual lives in order to find true happiness.
1. Love Is Really All That Matters
I may speak in the languages of humans and of angels. But if I don’t have love, I am a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 I may have the gift to speak what God has revealed, and I may understand all mysteries and have all knowledge. I may even have enough faith to move mountains. But if I don’t have love, I am nothing. 3 I may even give away all that I have and give up my body to be burned. But if I don’t have love, none of these things will help me.
1 Corinthians 13: 1-3 (GW)
The Bible teaches that we can acquire and accomplish impressive things in the eyes of the world but without love we are nothing. What do you value in life? Is it money? Is it success? Is it achievements? Or is it relationships?
Interviewer: “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?”
Vaillant: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
-George Vaillant, in an interview in March 2008
It is important to pause from our busy lives and consider what really matters to us. We know what we value by evaluating where we spend most of our mental, emotional and physical energy.
I have spent several holidays running around buying last minute gifts and stressing over holiday parties and so many other details. By the time holidays arrived, I would find myself exhausted, angry, and distant from God. That is because I spent all my energy on what I thought would make myself and everyone else happy instead of focusing on connecting and loving those around me.
Relationships need attention, time, and effort to grow. What do you spend the best of your energy on? Is it connecting with God, your spouse, your friends and your family or completing your to-do lists?
This season, instead of worrying and stressing about making everything perfect, choose to spend your energy connecting with God those around you. What can you do to make your times with God more special? How can you spend quality time connecting with and getting closer to those around you? Make a few simple choices in these areas today and you will start to experience a happier holiday.
2. Happiness is About More than Money and Power
I have seen what is good. It is good for a person to eat and drink. It’s good for them to be satisfied with their hard work on this earth. That’s what they should do during the short life God has given them. That’s what God made them for. 19 Sometimes God gives a person wealth and possessions. God makes it possible for that person to enjoy them. God helps them accept the life he has given them. God helps them to be happy in their work. All these things are gifts from God. 20 A person like that doesn’t have to think about how their life is going. That’s because God fills their heart with joy.
Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 (NIRV)
The Bible says God makes it possible for us to enjoy life. God helps us accept the life he has given us, and God helps us be happy with our work.
What do you believe is the source of your happiness? Do you believe God is the one who is able to make you happy? Are you satisfied or discontented with the life God has given you?
“In terms of achievement, the only thing that matters is that you be content at your work,” Vaillant told Huffington Post.
Many of us live an “If only…” life. We believe, I will be happy… “If only I am dating,” “If only I have a child” “If only I have more money” “If only…” but no matter what we get, we tend to still want more.
I can definitely be one of those “If only…” people. I often think I am one more accomplishment away from being completely happy. This type of attitude leaves me discontented instead of being grateful for the life I have.
The scriptures teach that only God enables us to be happy and accept the life he has given us. How much time do you spend being grateful for the life you have?
Do you consider your level of happiness to be a reflection of how your relationship with God is going? Or do you blame your circumstances? Do you ask God to make you happy and content with what you have?
3. Challenges –- and the Perspective They Give You — Can Make You Happier
My brothers and sisters, be very happy when you are tested in different ways. You
know that such testing of your faith produces endurance. Endure until your testing is over. Then you will be mature and complete, and you won’t need anything.
James 1:2-4 (GW)
How we deal with challenges in our lives determines whether we are happy or bitter and cynical.
“The journey from immaturity to maturity,” says Vaillant, “is a sort of movement from narcissism to connection, and a big part of this shift has to do with the way we deal with challenges.”
It is difficult to be very happy when we are tested and are going through challenges. When I have been faced with challenges – from raising a child with special needs, to dealing with my own health challenges or having to face and change my character – I often have had either the self-piteous “Why me?” attitude or the hardening my heart and claiming “I have no problems” attitude. I somehow want my life to be easy and impressive and skip the parts that are messy and show my weaknesses and needs.
But the Bible promises that when we endure hardships and learn the lessons God teaches us, we will be mature, complete and lacking nothing. One way I have learned to do this is by using my challenges for purpose. For me, nothing is more rewarding than using my life to help others. For example, sitting down with another parent of a child with special needs and helping them navigate through resources and early intervention makes me happy because I know how much it meant to me when I had the support of other parents and continue to receive their support and advice.
When someone is going through a hard time, they don’t usually want to talk to a person who is perfect and put together; they want those who can relate, empathize and give them hope. That is why those who endure challenges are the best people to make a difference in the lives of others! When we give to others, even if that means by simply sharing our weaknesses and failures, we will become happier.
How are you handling the challenges in your life? Are you isolating or making connections? Who can benefit from the challenges you are facing right now? This season, choosing to give to others no matter the hardships and challenges we are facing is one sure way to happiness.