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The Happiness Factor

Eagle Valley Behavioral Health

The holiday season is finally over. As a ski resort community, we get exceptionally busy, and often the cozy fireplaces, wonderful dinners, amazing holiday lights, Christmas movies, and family gatherings that we associate with this time of year, get put on hold, we are too busy to enjoy the holidays, the coveted time of year when we should be out having fun, laughing and celebrating. We think we may take some time to relax and enjoy it after the masses have left town. Yet somehow, celebrating afterward does not have the same feeling.

Many who live here, are not near family. Various reasons bring us to the mountains, and distance, along with the cost of travel during high seasons, can make family visits cost-prohibitive. So, while we help others make incredible family memories, we often miss out.

Even those with spouses and children, find that because of intense work schedules, they are not home during holiday events, because they are needed at work, making it feel as though they are apart, even when only a few miles away. Loneliness in a crowd… it’s all too abundant in this valley, where we live, in an area where people come from around the world, to reconnect with family.

Yet, we keep on going, reminding ourselves, we are living the dream.

But that dream, the dream so many crave, leaves us with a sense of loneliness and that loneliness creeps in and takes up residence. How do we overcome that feeling of isolation? How can we feel so alone, when we are constantly surrounded by people? How can we be so connected on social media, yet feel so disconnected? Why does everyone else look so happy and we feel so sad? What’s wrong with me? Am I not worthy of friends, family, and happiness? How do I get over this slump?

During the last few weeks, I have just not been me. Normally, I celebrate holidays in full force… trees, lights, music, food, parties, movies, all the accouterments surrounding the holiday season.

My family is strung all over the country and because of logistics and cost, they had no ability to get together this year, which made me sad because I really wanted a Christmas like we used to have, particularly before my dad died. Intellectually, I know that life happens, challenges occur, and many people up here don’t spend the holidays with family.

I found myself closing off emotionally; not caring about any of it… not Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, none of it. There was an emptiness and sadness to the entire season instead of tradition and happiness. I was beginning to understand Scrooge’s perspective. Was I becoming one of those bitter people?

Could I party my way into a celebratory mood? By joining in on the overeating of too much rich food; the consumption of more alcohol than normal; and random sleep patterns, my normal routine was replaced with an odd array of activities, to keep me busy, and away from thinking about how sad I was. Pretending to be happy became a full-time job for December. It was a blur of activity that accomplished absolutely nothing; not at work, home, or in the community. Pretending to celebrate the holidays was exhausting.

In order to distract myself I booked a quick trip for me and my husband, only to return on Christmas Eve and it hit like a brick wall. I wasn’t ok and my emotions were boiling over. A new loss in my life brought up so much suppressed emotion and grief from the death of my dad. I guess, this is what they mean by “holiday blues”. Trying to make things perfect in an imperfect world is not only tiring but unrealistic, yet, as if a glutton for punishment, we attempt it every year. Yet, we must carry on, and carry on I did.

Speaking with friends, I realized that I was not alone. Some variation of this happens to everyone at some point. Living in a beautiful place comes at a price, and we all understand that logically, but emotionally it’s a different story. Yet, loneliness is felt by all of us from time to time. So what happens when things get so low that we begin to wonder if we’ll ever get beyond it? What can we do to move forward? Part is strategy, and part is attitude. So what can we all do:

Gratitude: Once we are able to identify happiness, we can build upon it. From the big things, like the love of someone special, a wonderful career or home; to the smaller blessings like a good cup of coffee, seat heaters on a cold morning, a friendly driver letting you in at a traffic jam; or the things we take for granted, like being in good health. Gratitude is the first step towards happiness. Begin your day listing 5-things you are grateful for and end your day with recalling 5-things that went really well. That gratitude-happiness perspective will train you to notice the best of everything around you, and the not-so-good parts will pale in comparison. Noticing the good around you will soon become habit; a habit that brings with it, happiness.

Be kind to yourself: Keep your machine in top shape. Your body needs nourishment and rest, particularly under duress. Giving our body what it needs for optimal performance, assures better results. If we are in crisis mode, we cannot afford for our body to give out to sickness or injury because of neglect. Eat well, sleep more; there are many strategies available for both.

Mix up the routine: Nothing screams boredom more than doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result (Einstein… not so dumb). Yet, we all do it! We must evaluate what we truly want in our lives and examine if we are working towards those goals.

Get Outdoors: People feel inspired and tranquil in the mountains. There is something magical that happens here. When stressed, just take an hour (you’re going to waste it worrying, anyway) and go for a walk or simply sit outside, in admiration of the majesty of our surroundings. Notice nature, the sights and sounds around you, the beauty of it all. Feel the synergy and calm. It will transform you.

Put a smile on your face: When sad, your body will assume a weak position… frown, slump, eyes down, mumbled slow speech, basically a defeated stance. It is your mind telling your body what to do when you’re sad. However, it’s a two-way communication. Your body often tells your mind how to react… ever stubbed your toe?

Take the time you need to decompress and feel the raw emotions: If feeling sad, experience it, then after a period of time, set it aside and make a decision, that while it’s okay to be disappointed and unhappy, we all go through it, it is not a place where you want to take up permanent residency. Stand up straight, walk with authority, put a smile on your face (yes, force it), and instead of thinking of loneliness, think about how wonderful it is that you have the freedom of time, to yourself, to plan and prepare for your future. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely.

Volunteer: It builds community, you make connections with the people you are helping, and you cultivate friendships with other volunteers. Loneliness and social isolation are two of the most severe epidemics in the world today and volunteering increases socializing ultimately reducing loneliness. The benefits of consistent socializing include better brain function and lower risk for depression and anxiety. You also improve your immune system.

Finally, surround yourself with people who bring the best out in you. While, it is tempting to drown your sorrows with people who are in even worse shape than you, being with those who regularly overcome their challenges, will inspire you to press beyond what you think is possible. They may see a vision of you that you can’t quite imagine, yet. You are not alone; we’ve all been there.


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