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I can see why people believe that the route to happiness involves sacrifice, and why they believe that they need to suffer in order to be happier. The old rituals involved sacrifice in order to appease the gods and to ensure that the sun came back and that the beasts flourished and the crops were fertile. This idea of sacrifice has survived in modern Western religion, both in the teaching around the suffering of Jesus, and in the puritanical Western idea that being “good” involves self discipline and self denial. Hence our continuing urge to start the New Year by “giving things up”, whether it’s alcohol or tasty food or habits we regard as “bad”. We shall suffer, we shall be purified and thus we shall be saved, and then we will be happy. I don’t think our pagan ancestors would have made this confusion between sacrifice and being happy, by the way. The Christian Church has a lot to answer for.

Those old pagans knew a thing or two, and, as is demonstrated by the Harvard study, suffering and self-discipline and giving things up doesn’t make us happy. What does make us happy is having good, close, loving relationships with one another. And to be fair to Jesus, he is a lot better known for saying “Love one another” than for his exhortations to “Try going dry in January” and “Let me tell you about this amazing paleo diet, really, I’ve never felt this good.”

So, love one another. Simple as that. It will make you happy, and it will make you live longer. Love and be loved, everything else is filler. And, really, we know that, or else why would we buy people gifts at Christmas, if not to demonstrate love? Why would we rush round before and during Christmas and New Year trying to see our friends and families and to celebrate with them, other than to show them that we love them? That we love them, that we care about them, that we want to be with them. Love. The true meaning of Christmas.

So there you are. Love and light, the things that Christmas is really all about. And yes, of course you can join a gym, or go on a diet, or give up alcohol for January, or splurge in the sales on stuff. One of the greatest gifts of humanity is the triumph of hope over experience, so do these things if you want to and don’t knock yourself if they don’t deliver the happiness effect you were hoping for. You can still achieve happiness by having a good natter over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with someone you love and who loves you. So why not make a little New Year’s resolution to do that once a week too? Remember, love is for life, not just for Christmas – in every way 😊 .