By Kellie Schorr
Have Yourself a Merry Dharma Christmas is a series written for the holiday season combining the ever-present songs of the season with a little holiday dharma.
“What right have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
There’s a shortage of something you need this winter.
Gas prices are high. Somewhere a family is having to negotiate between buying favorite holiday foods or paying the heating bill. People have walked off the job in record numbers leaving retailers and businesses pushed to the limit. Covid threatens a winter visit, and the rest of the world is struggling with oppression, poverty, war and heartache. Yet, you walk through the store hearing “tidings of comfort and joy” and it causes a pause.
With the world in such a state, is it really okay to be happy?
Psychologists report they have been seeing case after case of “happiness guilt” in people. Happiness guilt is when you feel bad, because your good fortune or happy feelings don’t seem to match what the people around you are experiencing.
How do you tell someone about your promotion when you know their company has been shuttered for 18 months? What’s the feeling when you put up pictures of your new home, and see eviction notices are at an all time high? What are the words you use to tell someone you’re pregnant and bursting with the happiness of new life, when you know they’ve lost several family members to Covid in the last year?
The harder things get, the more awkward it is to be happy. Before you hold back on sharing your “Joy to the World,” here’s some things to remember:
Being Happy Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Aware
Having good things happen or feeling joy doesn’t mean we aren’t aware of what’s happening in the world. We can celebrate a good tiding or belt out a Christmas tune, and still be clear that there is injustice, famine and suffering around us. It is possible to strive with great energy to create change and call out oppression without being angry or sullen. In fact, you’re more likely to bring about change by using energy that is active (generated from motivation and joy) than reactive energy based on angry impulses.
There are plenty of challenges in the world. Repressing your happiness won’t fix any of them.
Being Happy is neither a Requirement nor a Detriment to Relationships
The important thing, this season and every season, is to feel what you feel. You don’t have to be covered in tinsel with a candy cane smile, and you don’t have to cry out the pain of lost angels either. What’s important is to feel and communicate your authentic experience.
Study after study show that while people in casual settings find it easier to affirm negative statements, what makes a relationship (friendship, work, love) strong and vibrant isn’t joy or eloquently expressed misery—it’s truth.
Pretending to be unhappy isn’t going to make us “part of the pack.” It’s going create a loss of self.
Being Happy Doesn’t Hurt Anyone Else
There’s a difference between being cluelessly chipper and blissed out while someone else is going through a trauma and expressing your individual experiences of hope or joy. The difference is empathy. Empathy doesn’t mean we feel bad because others feel bad. It means we understand they are going through a painful experience, and we respond to them with that in mind.
If someone is grieving, your empathy may tell you to listen to them, not gush about the new job you’ve just been offered. You can still feel happy about the job, and there will be a time for you to express it. Empathy isn’t about pretending not to have good things. It’s about making space for the truth of another.
We aren’t betraying someone by having joy when they have sorrow. Part of the luxury of joy is the ability to choose generosity, listening and compassion as a response.
Again and again we affirm the understanding that it doesn’t have to be a holly jolly Christmas where heaven and nature sing. It’s okay to feel anger, mourn bad memories or express sharp disappointments. It’s also okay to feel great, have hope, and enjoy some homemade fudge. The gift of an authentic Christmas is the best present you can have and the best self you can give to others.
“What right have you to be dismal? You’re rich enough.”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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