At Christmas, and all year, live happily

December 24, 2011

Yuletide sermons about the evils of commercialism as it applies to the true meaning of Christmas are a dime a dozen, so we’ll spare you a redundant scolding.

Instead, we simply extend a seasonal wish that you be happy. Happy with whatever you have, big or small. Happy with the people around you. Happy with expensive toys and happy with nothing more than a particularly bright star in a chilly evening sky.

We take heart from stories of people who take happiness where they find it, and if they don’t find it, they manufacture some on their own. This year, the layaway Santas have attracted headlines for paying off the tabs of people who did not have the money to pay for their presents all at once.

We dare say that the thrill felt by the secret Santa and the thought of some stranger discovering his or her bill has been paid will match or exceed any other feeling of seasonal joy that this particular Santa might experience.

There’s a lesson there.

Not just that giving is better than receiving, but that, sadly, this type of kindness is all too rare. We make people happy when we do things “just because,” yet this random consideration of our fellows always seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

Might we strive for a day when acts such as those perpetuated by the layaway Santas are so common that they no longer make the nightly news. It’s the Golden Rule-plus. Might we treat others not as we want them to treat us, but better than we would want them to treat us.

In the never-ending debate about the inherent goodness or badness of man, we should take heart in this: Most of us feel happy when we see others made happy by our own actions. When people laugh at our jokes, squeal with delight at our gifts or are warmed by a whispered message of love, we feel good. That’s good news for humanity.

It also stands to reason that the reverse is true — our thoughtlessness can make us feel worse than the person we have slighted. Huck Finn left us with this nugget: “What’s the use learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is the same?”

What Huck didn’t know was that what’s right and what society would have us believe is right don’t always match. The truth is that we know what’s right in our soul, and if we’re unsure we can always ask ourselves this: Will our actions make others happy? Will we be a tailwind or a headwind in the lives of others?

This isn’t news. Christmas is there to remind us of the fact every year. Our mission should be not to wait around all year for Christmas.

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