Turkey. Baked Ham. Mashed Potatoes. Pie. Gifts. Family. Those images evoke memories filled with merriment or solace. Television programs and commercials display images of happy families celebrating the holidays seated around their large dining tables, perfectly set with fine china and holiday décor. If you are lucky enough to have happy childhood memories, those memories are yours to keep. They are now part of the fabric that makes up your very being.
But for others, those memories are for storybooks only and can often evoke sadness, triggering depression with feelings of emptiness and loneliness. Or perhaps you have happy childhood memories filled with loving family and yummy food, but now you are estranged from your loved ones.
The holiday season can trigger depression for a plethora of reasons. The most common reason is loneliness. People who are estranged from their loved ones and isolated from their communities often experience sadness at its peak during the holiday season. Sometimes, as if it is a cruel joke, their mind replays happy scenes from childhood celebrations, reminding them of the severity of their loss. The empty void they feel is most notable during those quiet days of “time off” from work or daily routines.
Ed Diener, a world leader in the field of research on happiness, found that happiness comes from a feeling of belongingness. It is belonging to something larger than ourselves and communities or groups that are making a conscious effort to improve their community.
Mr. Diener’s research findings suggest that those who value money, power, and good looks are less happy than those who value compassion, cooperation, and a willingness to improve the world. In his study, people who volunteered to help others who were less fortunate or who shared in a community created a sense of belongingness and were abundantly happier in their lives.
Here are some ways to begin to develop a sense of belongingness, brighten your mood and stave off those holiday blues:
1. Avoid social media. Take a break and unplug. The media is saturated with “happy” family gatherings celebrating together.
2. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Soup kitchens often need extra help during the holidays due to the increased number of people in need.
3. Join others for a free hot meal. Local churches offer free holiday meals to those in need.
4. Adopt a Family Program. Contact a local non-profit facility and ask about “adopting” a family for the holiday. Through programs like the one at Lenape Valley Foundation in Doylestown, you can receive a wish list of food and gifts for a family needing help for the holidays. Lenape’s “elves” will wrap and deliver the gifts for you.
5. Reach out to a neighbor. Getting to know your neighbors is not an easy task in the suburbs. People with yards do not need to sit in front of their homes like in the city. This results in reducing the opportunities to meet neighbors and developing a sense of community. So take advantage of the holiday time off and drum up discussions among your closest neighbors.
The benefits of developing a sense of belongingness are immeasurable. Caring for others and celebrating someone’s joy helps increase one’s own sense of altruistic joy – happiness at the good fortune of others. It will have a profound change within yourself that will last all throughout the year.
“When we awake to the life-giving vow of compassion, we are like broken tiles and scattered pebbles are transmuted into god” Shinran (1173-1263)