Holiday “Blues” and a Few Antidotes
It is common for many people to experience a full range of emotions during the holiday season. It is also quite common for many people to experience holiday “blues.” In a more clinical understanding, this condition often includes both sadness/depression and anxiety/apprehension. Ideally, we should be able to experience thankfulness, gratitude, kindness, and joy; however for a myriad of reasons (family-of-origin issues, sibling rivalry, family systems “stuckness,” attachment problems, health issues, emotional problems, addictions, worries, etc.) many people do not look forward to the holidays. Buddhist Psychology offers a taste of reality: life is made up of suffering, joy/happiness, and neutrality/boredom. That is it! THIS is the WAY it is! As has been stated over 2,500 years ago, the mind/thought can either be our best friend or our worse enemy. Add to these realities the issues of rampant self-referencing and entitlement seen in so many people today – “Me/Mine Mind” (my terms). As we make our way through samsara, we condition/reinforce ourselves to the desire/attachment for sense pleasures; we understand that such states are temporary, and that we cannot hold onto them. Thus we are soon back in dissatisfaction as a norm. We crave too much; we crave too often. We lack mindful abilities and skills to be content and satisfied with what we have right now. This does not imply that you not work at personal improvement; it does imply that to do so in an authentic manner, requires great mindfulness, self-understanding, and patience.
Lucky for us, many enlightened beings from a long time ago have passed down teachings that will help us with these conditions. First, is awareness: we must become aware of the realities noted above. We need to be willing to allow life to be our teacher; we need to be willing to learn from whatever happens to us – pleasant and unpleasant. Primary suffering will occur – we cannot avoid it in life. Secondary suffering, however, does not have to exist. As the story of the “two arrows” goes, we get hit by primary suffering, which is out of our personal control. That painful arrow should cue us to not allow habitually reactive thoughts, emotions, and escape behaviors to dominate our experience at that time. It requires great mindfulness and determination (skills and practices) to keep the second arrow out of our future. I am sure you know a person (perhaps it is you) who suffered from the first arrow many, many years ago and has been unable to free her/himself from the second arrow – habitual reactive, negative thoughts, emotions and behaviors associated with the first arrow. Second, is life purpose. Why are we here? We are here to live, to be, to learn, to experience, to cope, to love, to be spirit, and to find our deeper personal meanings. Impermanence is third. Nothing stays exactly the same; everything is in a state of change. Bad experiences do not last forever, and good experiences do not last forever – in fact because we desire them they may be more short-lived. Ultimate reality is next. All the problems we face (troubled love, the lack of it, finances, jobs, family relations, loneliness, illness, etc.) test our resolve and skills. To use the true ways of reality or the way things are (impermanence, emptiness, dependent origination, and no-self) in our service is to become more resilient to our suffering. These teachings and ways of being require much practice and understanding. It is not that you will not suffer; it is hoped that you will not react so harshly to your suffering and see it as simply one form of our temporary reality. Gratitude is the next doorway. Do your best to have gratitude and contentment with what you do have now – whatever the immediate personal experience is. We humans often take for granted many positive aspects of our lives, until we lose one of them. Have gratitude as your norm. Next to last, be in your true self. Yes, you will have negative emotions and suffering. And yes you will have joy and happiness. The highest form of happiness is to learn not to suffer so much even when you are suffering. Live in full honesty with who/what you are. Also seek to find meaningful pathways to lasting happiness, which is most often not attached to possessions. Love yourself more, and love others as well. Lastly, be and act in compassionate ways to yourself and to others. This is the most true pathway to lasting happiness. Be kind, and act to put the interests of others ahead of your own self-interests.
Happiness follows such sacrifice. I hope you will try some of these wisdom teaching during the holidays, especially if you experience “the blues.” After the holidays keep living this way. You will become a happier person.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness