I hope everybody had lovely holidays, whatever that means for you. For me it was peace and quiet, lots of writing, some time with friends, and some time to think. In my holiday felicitations, I wished people a safe, joyous, happy, healthy, prosperous, and possibly nutritious new year.
But that list isn’t complete. I also wish you a meaningful new year.
Turns out, happiness and meaning are not necessarily joined at the hip, though you’d think they were. You’d think a life that makes a difference for others, that puts our highest goals and most noble aspirations into action would make us happy. For most of us, nope. Meaningful effort is hard, and while rewarding, doesn’t necessarily make us happy-happy. Might make us feel alive, connected, important, honorable or empowered… but sheer, giggly, joyous happy…. nuh-uh.
Most of us grasp this intuitively. Mother Theresa did a lot for a lot of people, raised awareness of dire poverty, served as a role model. Nelson Mandela lead a movement for equality and racial justice while spending decades in prison. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., saw the mountaintop, gave speeches that still inspire us–and gave his life.
Their lives were heroic, and hard. Really hard. Scary hard. Life-on-the-line hard. I’m not suggesting you live in the slums of Calcutta, spend decades in prison, or risk death to address social injustice (unless that’s your preference). For right now, just pick something that’s meaningful to you–literacy, homelessness, world hunger, stray cats, public art, clean air, stray teenagers–and do something about it.
Giving money is nice, but you will feel a greater impact if you DO something. Adopt a cat, write to your legislators, plant a tree, take a box of clothes to Goodwill, bring vegan donuts to the office, babysit for the overwhelmed mom at church. The result will be a warm fuzzy, empowered sense of having made a difference, and enough small differences can make a very great difference indeed.
And we need that warm fuzzy. It’s proof that the media–who seem to have nothing better to do than emphasize all that’s wrong, sad, and frightening–doesn’t have the whole story. Proof that we each make a difference. Proof that we’re still a species capable of hope and kindness. We need this too, as individuals, as families, as communities and a society.
So in addition to all that other good stuff–health, safety, happiness, good food and enough of it, loving friends and family–I wish you a little meaning.
When you were growing up, did anybody around you evidence belief in a cause? How did you know it? If you could give one day to any cause, what would it be?
To three commenters, I’ll send signed copies of Tuesday’s release, “A Single Kiss.”