This is my Christmas message, my holiday hopes. For the past year or so, I have been writing about personality disorders and high-conflict personalities, and ways of managing conflicts and relationships where those seem present. When discussing these difficult topics, it’s always important to maintain perspective.

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Happiness

One of the greatest lessons I have learned from cognitive therapy is that we can influence our emotions by what we tell ourselves. Tell yourself something negative (especially about yourself, the people around you, or the future), and you will feel worse. Tell yourself something positive (especially about yourself, the people around you, or the future), and you will feel better. So happiness comes significantly from what we tell ourselves about our circumstances.

Happiness also comes from being around people that we like, and who like us. It’s actually very simple. We’re social creatures, but we’re happiest when we are physically around those we like and those who like us. In this day and age of technology, studies are showing that large numbers of us are isolated and feeling alone, and sometimes depressed. Just getting out of bed and outdoors is often all it takes to get started seeing and being with others. Churches, school programs, movie theaters, even the local Post Office are places you can go to see a friendly face and interact with others.

Happiness also comes from doing what you like to do. Taking a walk. Fixing something that’s broken. Writing a letter (OK, email, text, etc.). Happiness is about so much more than having things or getting things. The best things in life aren’t things.

Happiness also comes from serving others. Volunteering, helping strangers, doing something for a sick relative. Research shows that it’s better to give than to receive.  

Peace

We are living in one of the greatest periods of worldwide peace in history. Check the statistics, it’s true. But we’re also living on the verge of one of the most conflicted years in our lifetimes. Tensions are high, especially at the highest levels of government in many nations around the world. People are being divided by some political and cultural leaders into an “Us against Them” hysteria and fear. This coming year could end up going very badly. Peace means each of us doing our part to be peaceful.

Just as we have some choice over whether we feel happy or unhappy by what we tell ourselves, we have a choice over whether to reinforce us-against-them feelings or we’re-in-this-Together feelings. It is the emotional repetition of hostile messages for months or years that leads to open warfare. We don’t want that, so it’s important to nip those negative messages in the bud, rather than to join in hating the “other” (whether Republicans, Democrats, Mexicans, Nationalists, etc.) The reality is that human beings are extremely flexible, so that you can bring out the best in them or the worst by how you speak to them, write to them, and talk about them.

Self-Awareness

My third wish for you is self-awareness. I write and teach about personality disorders in everyday life. One day a student asked: “What is a single word that defines the difference between someone who has a personality disorder and someone who doesn’t?” We decided that it would be “self-awareness.”

People with personality disorders are stuck in life in a narrow pattern of behavior, helplessly blaming the world or someone in particular for their problems and never looking at their own part. This means they remain stuck. Some of them insist on everyone else doing things their way. It’s sad, because that never works.

So I choose to ask myself what I could do differently, better. I have already decided that I have become afraid over the past year in this increasingly angry world. I realize that I need to be less afraid and speak up more for peace and tolerance. Funny, but isn’t that the message of this season!

I wish you happiness, peace, and self-awareness. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and best wishes!