Would you like to give a gift that will make people happy for years to come? Don’t bother to put it on your shopping list. You won’t be able to buy it because it’s something that comes from your heart rather than a store.
Christmas seems to be the time of the year when we test the theory that we can buy happiness. In an effort to make our loved ones happy, we buy them lots of presents. People often enjoy the pursuit of finding the perfect holiday gifts. But once the short-lived excitement of the gift exchange is over, they’re rarely able to sustain a feeling of satisfaction. Usually it’s not long before they’re off on their next quest to obtain another material possession in order to recapture the thrill of the hunt – a state that many people often mistake for happiness.
When we open our gifts we have a moment of joy: “Wow, this is great! It’s just what I wanted. Thank you so much.” However, the positive feelings of having acquired more material possessions usually lasts for a day or two – perhaps as long as a week – and is a distant memory in a month. That’s because these pleasurable emotions are based on our primordial urge to gather goods that assure us that we have enough. But if the source of your happiness rests on feeling that you have enough, dissatisfaction will rapidly return.
First of all, enough is relative. For one thing, it’s contingent on how much you have at any point in time. You probably possess a lot more now than you did decades ago. Let’s say you’re worth twice as much now as you were twenty years ago. Are you twice as happy now? If you’re like most people, the answer is no.
Speaking of most people, your feelings about whether you have enough is also determined how much others have. The problem is that there will always be someone who has more than you do, so you’ll always end up a loser when you engage in the comparison competition.
This constant pursuit to have more and more is probably embedded in our DNA. Through the millennia, our ancestors needed to continually forage in order to have enough to survive. Human beings are hardwired in the primitive parts of their brain to feel like they never have enough. But they’re also blessed with a cerebral cortex which gives them the capability to make reasoned choices.
You can override your instinctive drive to buy more, eat more, or drink more by consciously providing yourself reassurance to counterbalance the underlying sense of scarcity that’s lurking in your subconscious. Appreciation for what you have will not only diminish the drive to acquire more, but it will bring you a sense of well-being. Taking the time to savor the abundance of a wonderful holiday feast will offset the need to gorge as if you may never find another meal.
But even if you tame your urge to splurge, you still won’t be happy. To generate genuine joy in your heart, you’ll need to feel an abundance of love in your life. People who create an enduring sense of happiness focus on the satisfying aspects of their relationships. It’s not that they’ll experience fewer problems with their loved ones. Studies show couples that who divorce and those who are happily married have the same number of struggles.
People who generate the most happiness make a concerted effort to highlight the positive experiences in their relationships. They remember their past encounters with their loved ones fondly, and see the best qualities of people when they’re interacting with them. They seek to understand the dreams and desires of those they care about and share their own hopes and goals for the future.
A wonderful way to create abundant happiness this Christmas is to give the people you love the gift of a gratitude letter. Sit down and reflect on what’s brought you joy in your relationships with loved ones. Reminisce about a memorable time that gave you pleasure and warmed your heart. Share those heartfelt emotions with each important person in your life. Read your letter in person if possible; otherwise, call and share your whole-hearted affection.
Don’t mistake the momentary pleasure of exchanging gifts for long-lasting authentic happiness. It’s people who have an abundance of love in their relationships who are happiest in life. Give the gift of a gratitude letter and your loved ones will cherish it forever.