I haven't even started thinking about Christmas shopping and I only have one present to buy! My wife even shops for my mother.
Mum will ring up and say, "Thank you for my present. It was so thoughtful." To which I reply, surreptiously, "I'm glad you liked it." She, spotting my carefully chosen words, will then say, "You don't know what you gave me, do you?" Rumbled again!
The thing is, I know that it won't be the quality of my gift that will make my wife (or my mother!) happy this Christmas, it will be the quality of my behaviour. And research published today agrees with me.
The BBC news headline is "Mental health and relationships 'key to happiness'" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38285223). The article outlines how researchers have found that more money doesn't make people happier.
Now you might not think that this is news, especially after a brief glance at the celebrity columns, where you will find the misery of the rich and famous. But people are slow learners. So most of us genuinely believe that life would be easier (aka happier), if we had a bit more dosh. This isn't just a personal belief, it's a cultural belief. So the primary concern of our government is to make the UK economically more successful, because having more money as a nation is the best thing for us.
However, the two things that scientists have discovered make the greatest difference to happiness are: mental health and relationships. I know many people suffer from mental health problems that are not the result of their circumstances, but I think the research puts the cart before the horse a little when its says, "The biggest effect was caused by depression and anxiety, which saw happiness levels dip by 0.7 on the scale." I would think that circumstantial unhappiness was one of the primary causes of depression and anxiety. Often people suffer events and situations that lead them to a despondency, that develops into a clinical mental heath issue.
Top of improving your happiness was relationships. According to the research I will be made 3 times happier by being nice to my wife than by having my salary doubled!
Now I've said this before, but I make no apology for saying it again, not least because I need to hear it on a daily basis: We're created in the image of God who is in permanent loving relationship; Father, Son and Spirit. Therefore, we are most human when we give love in relationship, because then we are most God like.
In other words if you listen hard you can hear God saying to these researchers, "Duhhhh! I told you so!" Or to put it more graciously in the words of the Lord Jesus:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (John 15:9-11)
Jesus has loved us with the same love that the Father has for Him in all eternity. A love that gives. A love that seeks the honour of the other. If we obey Jesus as he has obeyed his Father, then we will have complete joy in Him. We'll be happy. Not in a trite, temporary, things are going my way today, sort of way. But in a deep, permanent, I am loved whatever happens, sort of way.
So what are the commands that Jesus wants us to obey. He tells us in the very next verses:
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:12-13)
It is to love each other with the same self-giving, sacrificial love, with which he loved us at the cross. It is to be the best friend that I can possibly be to the people around me by putting aside my selfishness for the sake of their good.
So why not pause in the mad rush to get ready for Christmas to ponder the possibility that all the shopping and cooking and decorating might actually be making you and the people you're stressing on less happy this Christmas? I'm not saying don't do those things. But I wonder if a simpler Christmas might give us more time to invest in and enjoy our relationships. Because they're what will make you, and those you love, happy.
And why not think of ways that you can demonstrate the love of Christ to those who might not otherwise enjoy relationship this Christmas? The elderly person in your street who lives on their own. The single person whose family are too far away to travel to for the holiday. The family who have recently arrived from Eastern Europe or the Middle East, who don't know anyone.
It's only when we give sacrificially in love, as God gave to us in His Son, that we'll know true happiness.