Last year, my Yule week blog post focused on how our Christmas trees have morphed with the passage of time (see Less Holly, More Jolly if you’re a blog archivist, which for all I know is a thing). Our trees have gone from spindly and real to enormous and artificial, gradually diminishing to miniature. And still artificial. This year’s tree is even smaller than last year’s. It fits nicely into the niche between our fireplace and the wall. That makes it highly satisfactory, as it’s not in the way of Husband’s wheelchair, which is with us until well past New Year’s.
What with the constraints of The Chair and Candy (as in, Cane), this will be a quiet Christmas. Canceled are the trips to visit relatives, the New Year’s Eve parties, and most of the general running around that the holiday seems to require. Would I have chosen to miss out on all the activity and the gathering of the clan, especially for this reason? Of course not.
But as the saying goes, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, and now that I have this straight, there’s an upside. No driving up and down the state in holiday traffic, no flying across the country enclosed in metal tubes with a horde of stressed-out fellow travelers and their sneezing children. No lengthy dinner table conversations that stumble on the precipice of dangerous topics (politics or religion, increasingly indistinguishable), no enormous meals to produce with their attendant chaos in the kitchen. No piles of wrapping detritus scattered around the living room. No piles of dazed relatives scattered among the sofas and chairs, napping between feedings. And no letdown when everyone packs up and goes home, leaving the house feeling hollowed-out and bereft.
I actually love all of that stuff, except for the letdown part. But I’ve had many Big Christmases, and am likely to have others. This year I’m content to welcome in Wee Christmas. Quiet Christmas. Silent Night. I’m quite looking forward, in fact, to settling down to a nice little meal in front of the fireplace and our teeny tree, and then watching vintage holiday movies until it’s time to totter (or roll) off to bed.
This is perhaps what Harvard psychology professor Dan Gilbert is referring to when he speaks of synthetic happiness. I have yet to read his book Stumbling on Happiness, but it’s on my To Read list. I gather that it’s basic gist is this: happiness isn’t about getting what we want, but about rearranging our brains so that we want what we get. The term “synthetic” in this case isn’t pejorative: it just means that we forge happiness from the hand we’re dealt, not the one we wish we’d been given. My words, not Dan Gilbert’s, I hasten to add. Apparently, human beings have a natural and mostly unconscious knack for synthesizing happiness. I expect that happier people do it more often, and perhaps with more awareness, but I’ll have to read the book and find out.
It reminds me of something Abe Lincoln is said to have said:
So this holiday season, I wish you and yours many wee and sparkly blessings, the gift of contentment, and a double serving of perfectly synthesized happiness.