Christmas has become a season of confliction.
We are to buy gifts for others and self; celebrate the birth of Jesus, eat, drink and be merry, dress chicly, decorate our homes and entertain.
For many, we have the added stress of pretending family harmony or adding to unsustainable credit card debt.
Not surprisingly, Christmas is one of the most stressful and unhappiest times of the year for many.
I was fortunate to attend a lecture by Father Spitzer, an American Jesuit priest, philosopher, educator and author this past week. He spoke on the four levels of happiness.
My thoughts immediately turned to Christmas. Fr. Spitzer described the least sustainable level of happiness as immediate gratification or materialism.
Today we are bombarded with Christmas advertising imploring us to make sure we don’t forget ourselves when buying gifts. This obligation to self brings immediate happiness, but it is ever so fleeting.
The second least sustainable level of happiness is ego-comparative gratification.
That virtually describes most Christmas activities–looking good and outperforming others in our circle.
The showmanship of Christmas, where we consciously or unconsciously seek compliments and praise or secretly enjoy peer jealousy lends itself to a form of short-term happiness.
Those in this ego-feeding frenzy have constant stress to outperform their peers at ever increasing levels.
Ego-comparative gratification isn’t just found at Christmas or among the wealthy, it has seeped into all our lives.
Basing our happiness on being one up on our peers explains much of the unhappiness in today’s Western societies.
Americans always rank well below other first world countries on the happiness scale. In 2018, its rank was 18, four positions lower than the year before.
Not surprising, the top 10 happiest countries, which includes Canada, all have better social support systems, universal health care, strong human rights records and are far less prideful and self-centred.
Fr. Spitzer argues true happiness is achieved through contributive gratification and ultimate good.
Contributive gratification is simply serving others. It’s making decisions based on the greater good.
Giving to charities, visiting shut-ins, inviting the lonely to family Christmas celebrations, serving meals at homeless shelters, shovelling a walk for a senior, driving a single mom to the mall, dropping off cash for a needy family–these are the actions that bring long-term happiness.
At Christmas, Canadians shine in these areas.
Finally, Fr. Spritzer talked about the ultimate good that leads to lasting happiness, a belief in a higher power that transcends us.
It’s about truth, love, beauty, justice–and that’s why Christians focus on the birth of Jesus and his teachings at Christmas. For Christians, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for others by his dying on the Cross for our salvation.
When there is so much anger and fear in the public square worldwide, Fr. Spritzer’s words on sustainable happiness are certainly worth pondering this Christmas season.