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On the eve of a New Year it is tempting to once again make a whole list of outlandish and probably unachievable resolutions. Lose 20 Kilos. Read a new book a month. Never get drunk again. Avoid all soft drinks. Don’t eat any chocolate again. Stand up to my boss. Do more exercise. If you are anything like me, sometimes you feel defeated by January 2nd.
But how about five simple things you can do to be happier—five simple things which you really can do? And they’re a lot easier than losing 20 kilos!
1. Be a Little Kinder. I think that 90% of the spiritual life is being a kind person. No need to have any advanced degrees in theology or moral reasoning, and no need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world’s religious traditions. All you’ve got to do is, try to be gentler and more compassionate towards other people. In other words, say “Thank you” and “Please.” Ask people how they are. Listen more carefully when they speak to you. Don’t say destructive things about them behind their backs. Basically, give them the benefit of the doubt. I know that sometimes we all feel like lashing out – justifying our actions because of the way we’ve been treated—but you don’t have to. Most of the time we all have a choice: I can be destructive or I can be kind. My suggestion for 2019 is: Be kind. You’ll find that you’ll be happier with yourself at the end of the day. And, as an added benefit, everyone around you will be happier.
2. Relax a Bit More. Let’s not fool ourselves, a lot of us love telling everyone just how busy we are! Overbooked. Overscheduled. Overworked. Crazybusy. Exhausted. Checking our phones and iPads every five seconds. Do you really, really, need to be checking in every few minutes? Can you set those things aside for just a little bit? And aren’t there just a few tasks you can let go of? How many of these things did I really have to do? Relaxing a little bit more can lead to more creativity, more time to think, and more time to pray. Paradoxically, it may make you more productive. It’ll certainly make you happier—and again, everyone around you happier because you’re not stressing everyone else out with your stress. I’m not saying check out completely, or quit your job, or tell everyone that you’re stopping every activity you presently do. Just relax a little more. You’re a human being not a human doing.
3. Enjoy Nature More. Here in the Cathedral we live in an amazing part of God’s good creation. Look up at the sky. It’s pretty amazing. The early sunrise or the crisp, clear sunsets. I know that the jacarandas have finished for another year but are you aware of the many other cycles that are going on in the green spaces of our city or as you drive through the suburbs? Notice nature a little more. It’s always changing and so it’s always a surprise. And can you thank God for the natural things that you notice every day? Being aware of the natural beauty around us, naturally makes us happy; being more grateful to God will add even more to your happiness.
4. Be a Little More Grateful. As you think about 2019 why not try this: Notice the small daily things that you tend to overlook. The stuff you take for granted or like, but don’t really consider “special.” The taste of your favourite cereal or coffee or juice in the morning. An unexpected phone call from a friend. Your child’s laugh or a nephew’s or niece’s giggle. Your cat’s crazy antics. A funny TV show. A small house job finally finished. Stop and savour those little things. And say thanks to God. I’m not saying that you can’t be sad or disappointed because life’s really tough some times. Most times. But I’ll bet that there are a few things in your life that make you feel lucky. Just a few seconds a day is all it takes. Gratitude is the gateway to the spiritual life. Open that door today! You’ll be a happier person once you step through.
5. Pray Just a Tiny Bit More. I’m not saying that in 2019 you need to enter a monastery or take out a mortgage on a hermitage. But just a few more minutes a day is enough to jumpstart your spiritual life. Think of it as a relationship. If God is important to you, wouldn’t you want to spend some one-on-one time with God? That’s what prayer is. And there’s no best, or only way to pray. Whatever works best for you—imagining yourself with God, quietly meditating on a favourite Scripture passage, or reciting an old prayer that comforts you, making a commitment to weekday Mass—it’s what’s best for you. Just a little bit of prayer will help you feel in closer touch with God. And that relationship, because it connects you to the transcendent and makes you feel less alone in those tough times I mentioned, will make you happier.
There. Those aren’t so hard are they? Be kind. Relax a little bit. Enjoy nature more. Be a little more grateful. Pray just a tiny bit more. You can do all those. And in doing those you’ll be happier.
As I pack up and prepare for my new assignment at Caloundra and make way for your new Dean, I thank you for your support and wish you every blessing for the New Year.
Fr Peter Brannelly