In our seasonal salutations, we say “Merry Christmas,” and “Happy Holidays,” and of course we mean it.

And we can have merriness and happiness, if we reach for them. They can be elusive, though. This time of year, we’re stressed. We’ve overspent. The culture – not to mention ourselves – expects us to create the perfect Christmas, sought by racking up credit card expenses, by trying to prepare the exquisite meal, by traveling too far and eating too much. There are the annual assemblies of family, some cherished, others difficult. Still, we do it, because it is the season of Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ birth that has become so much more.

Merriness? Happiness? There may be a state of mind that’s more honest, more achievable, more realistic, according to Marianne Schloss, the Casa de la Luz Hospice community educator who knows a great deal about the holidays, and what they mean and do to people.

“I think there’s something called joy,” Schloss said. “It’s not dependent on other circumstances. It arrives spontaneously, and naturally, when we recognize the gifts of being alive.”

Happiness, she believes, “is a culturally dictated state” that may not be natural.

“We can be positive. Is the glass half empty or half full? I choose that.” Life has difficult moments, yes, but we ask “what can I learn from this? I need to wake up and learn from this. I look for the gift inside all experience. What is happening is something I can learn from, and use it in a positive way.”

Happiness “means very little to me,” said Schloss. “It’s really joy.”

There’s a lot more from Marianne Schloss in this Christmas edition of The Explorer. If you find a minute, and can read some of it — thank you. May it offer a nugget of wisdom, a shred of perspective, a chance at foregiveness, for yourself, and for others, this Christmas season.

We’ve published this day another story, about Jo Ann Spencer and her sons Spencer and Benjamin Smith, and the trials of their lives. The “boys” — they’re 20-year-old men — were dealt the difficult deck of cerebral palsy, and they have endured more in 20 years of living than dozens of people collectively are asked to bear in their lifetimes.

Yet they do it with smiles.

Schloss makes the distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is non-negotiable. Suffering is “the resistance to what’s happening in the moment. When we do that, we contract inside, our mind closes, our heart closes, our body tenses.”

When we accept pain, but choose not to suffer, we are freed. Jo Ann, Spencer and Benjamin have pain, but they do not suffer. They choose not to do so.

“We control nothing and influence everything,” Schloss says, and the attitude of Jo Ann and her sons is a marvelous example of such living at Christmastime, and at any time.

These people need help, and we write about them now in the hope that others are motivated to lend a hand, to give money, to do what they can to improve the human condition of another. This is the season of giving, and when we do so willingly, without expectation of return, with focused attention, love and respect … we get something back. We give, and we get, at Christmastime, and at any time.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Short of those lofty aspirations, we wish you a Joyous Christmas and a new year of promise, laughter and grace.


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