'Tis the Season to be Merry!

December is a festive time of year, with the stores seasonably festooned and filled with all sorts of goodies, ubiquitous holiday music playing endlessly, houses decorated with twinkling lights, television shows about families celebrating and setting aside their differences, commercials filled with happy families and joyful children receiving their secretly wished-for gifts from the white bearded, rotund and red-suited, ho-ho-hoing figure. I love this time of year. But not everyone is able to get into the holiday spirit, thus giving rise to the term holiday blues.

How could anyone feel blue during the time when holiday cheer abounds? There are many reasons: loneliness, financial hardships, stress, anxiety and depression. People who are alone or cannot be with their families during the holidays can find this time difficult. Financial hardships for people on a tight budget can also add to the difficulty of living up to the often consumer-driven frenzy of holiday gift-giving. Trying to do too much in keeping with what is expected of us during the holiday time can cause stress and anxiety, leaving us feeling despondent.

Of course, you can beat the holiday blues by taking some practical steps. Take time to reflect on all the positives in your life and count your blessings. Try to appreciate and be grateful for what you have. Remind yourself that your life does not have to resemble a television holiday special. You do not have to follow a script and live up to unrealistic expectations for the perfect holiday. Remember, the best gifts do not always have to cost a lot of money. Inner happiness is seldom derived from money and material things. In case of true material need, money does relieve suffering but there is plenty of evidence to show that having lots of money seldom makes people happy. The holidays are a perfect time to practice altruism: spending time with others who are alone, or helping someone in need. This will not only bring joy to another but it will also give you a great deal of satisfaction.
Holiday Blues : Rediscovering the Art of Celebration

Herbert Rappaport catalogues four distinct personality types and examines how each type deals with the holidays, be they religious or secular celebrations, in his book Holiday Blues : Rediscovering the Art of Celebration. Read this book and find out if you are "the Perfectionist, whose predominant response to certain holidays will be anxiety. The Juggler will also respond with anxiety and apprehension, but for a different set of reasons. For the Mourner, holidays mean a melancholy revisitation of times past, while the Fixer considers them an exercise in futility, and feels frustrated as he attempts to change the behavior of others."

But it is not just the holiday season that brings on the blues. We have heard of the post-holiday blues and then, of course, there is your run-of-the-mill winter doldrums and the rainy day blues! So how can we achieve and sustain happiness, regardless of the time of year? As per the Mayo Clinic newsletter, the "bulk of what determines happiness is due to personality and — more importantly — thoughts and behaviors that can be changed." So, the good news is that we can learn how to be happy. In order to cultivate that sense of inner peace and contentment, where minor happenings do not upset our emotional equilibrium, here is a list of books that will not only help you beat the holiday blues but will also help you maintain that enduring sense of emotional well-being throughout the year.
Spontaneous Happiness
An accessible read, Spontaneous Happiness, is a comprehensive guide for individuals suffering from the blues. Derived from an integerated model of mental health, the well-known author, Andrew Weil, dispenses practical advice on diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Divided into three sections, the book's last section - An 8-Week Program for Optimum Emotional Well-Being- is a practical and a useful guide. Of course, changing old habits is not always easy but if we make the effort the author "promises" we are bound to "enjoy enhanced emotional well-being."

Contentment : A Way to True Happiness
Simply written but with a profound message, Contentment : A Way to True Happiness by Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl is a mere 166 pages. This book contains no pat answers but thought-provoking essays on the true meaning of happiness. Citing Shakespeare's King Lear, the authors illustrate their point that while we may have reasons to feel dissatisfied and unhappy, accepting what we have and not constantly craving more, brings contentment and leads to spiritual and psychological growth.

Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness
Willard Spiegelman discusses the prospect of achieving happiness in his book, Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness, without the means of religion or pharmacology. An easy and charming read, much like sitting in the college bar chatting with your professor, the author does not provide formulaic advice. Instead all the essays are about the ordinary things that makes the author happy, and which he claims "the sanguine temperament may take to them naturally. The melancholic may take them up with resistance, but then respond to them with bodily and emotional uplift." The chapters are titled with activities that make the author happy such as walking, swimming and dancing. On the very top of the list - the number one panacea to all ills - Reading. Of course, this made the librarian in me really happy!
How of Happiness : A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want

In the How of Happiness : A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky, the author addresses the many benefits and the consequences of being happier. She discusses lots of happiness-increasing strategies and provides you with a road map on how to get there. Simply put, the author claims, there are many ways to be happy and we all have the potential to be happy. We need to be able to distinguish between things that really matter and things that are unimportant in order to improve our happiness quotient in our day-to-day lives.

Ultimately, achieving happiness is a lot of hard work. Read some of the books mentioned above and with some dedicated practice, you will reap the benefits. Here is wishing you happiness now and throughout the year!

-Rina B.


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