Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pursuit- The American Way

pursuit: (noun) 1. the act of following in order to catch, attack, or kill. 2. seeking to attain (a goal).

hap·pi·ness: (noun) 1. a: a state of well-being and contentment : joy b : a pleasurable or satisfying experience

I'll blame it on Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers. They were the ones that told us we had a right, an inalienable right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The problem is that Americans have always seemed to use the first definition of pursuit, and not the second. Yes, we follow, or pursue our happiness with an intensity that inevitably will kill it before we know we might have caught it.

Think about how so many of us live our lives- full schedules, full-time jobs, families, after care, school activities, extra-curricular activities, extended family gatherings/obligations, church, home, hearth, neighborhood, civic/social charity.... the list is endless and smothering in its length, breadth, and weight. Our day-to-day lives are frequently a scramble from one thing to the next. Days that start early, end late and rarely slow down between waking up and going to sleep. Calendars filled with events and meetings, appointments, and obligations. Have you every panicked at the thought of losing your calendar? Have you secretly fantasized about burning it?

Of course we get vacations from all of this you might think. But think about how we frequently pursue our vacations. We head to amusement parks, resorts, Disney World. Those precious days free from the pressure of daily life can swiftly be filled with the "pursuit of fun." Sun-up to sun-down we scurry from museums to snorkeling, thrill rides, to tour guides. We can come home more tired than when we left.

Our culture seems to be hard-wired to cram in amuseument, to relentlessly pursue happiness. Our movies are blockbusters, full of explosions, special effects, loud sound effects, super-sized popcorn, and dazzling action. Our restaurants serve meals that would feed entire villages for a week in other parts of the world. We like our cars big, our music energetic, and our celebrities bigger than life.

Should our Christmas holidays be any different? Thinking about the Christmas holidays is really what got me thinking about how we pursue happiness in America. I have talked to many people this year and we all feel the same way- harried, stressed, worried, and exhausted by the run up the Christmas. That isn't to say there aren't bright spots of enthusiasm, but the stress of buying gifts, fitting in all the parties, seeing all the family, decorating the house, going to local events, all the things that we seems to feel are necessary to Christmastime is really wearing us out.

So now I find myself really examining how I approach the Christmas Holidays, why I am approaching them in this way, and how I can make my life more sane. I am really looking at what Christmas means to me and why. I am also thinking of what of my childhood Christmases I remember, what makes those memories special, and how I can pass some of that feeling on to my son. Here is what I have found so far.....

First of all, Christmas is not about the shopping, the gifts, the food, or the decorations- though they all add to the festivities. Those things can easily become part of the pursuit of Christmas, which can be detrimental in the end. Remember, pursuit is often more about the attack than the attainment.

What makes Christmas a stessful and unhappy time for me is much of the above. I over-schedule, over-buy, over-plan, and generally make life much harder than it needs to be.

How can I edit my approach to Christmas to bring the focus back where it belongs and make it generally a more pleasant experience?? This year I have been trying to be mindful of my choices.

Buying for everybody on my list is too stressful financially?? My answer is to announce to family and friends that I have everything I need, and to please not buy for me and Drew and we are not planning to buy for anyone over the age of 21 (our oldest nephew is about to age out of this system, sorry Josh).

Too many time committments? LEARN TO SAY NO NOW AND THEN. I am not doing so well with this one, but trying, still trying...

Bring my focus to my husband, my son, my closest and dearest. Explore traditions old and new, and talk to Connor about them. Help him learn the stories and celebrations that make this time of year so special.

Remind myself that Christmas, at its heart is a celebration of the birth of a baby. What I personally believe about Jesus and his divinity (or lack thereof) pales in importance when I think of the world stopping to celebrate the birth of a child. That this child grew to have important lessons for us all to learn is just icing on the cake.

So what I am trying to do it take the time to stop and watch and listen to Connor, to tell the stories, to hear what he has to say, to answer his questions, and to marvel at how his mind works. I am putting extra effort into giving him some of the greatest gift I ever got from my mother and that is a delight in the magic of Christmas. It is so easy to lose that feeling when you are a grown-up, but with Connor I have the chance to recapture it. All I have to do is let the pursuit of the Christmas Spirit go, and let the Christmas Spirit happen.

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