portrait of happy woman in front of two sad womansThe holiday season has arrived and with it, for many of us, comes inordinate pressure to spend happy meaningful time with family who may, or may not, be our first choice for company. I’m struck by the happy smiling faces featured in all the advertisements at this time of year. For some, this may be a true reflection of family time, and for others, pretty much the opposite: instead dutiful mood management and smiling may be the order of the day.

Such enforced happiness strikes a chord with me and I enjoyed reading this piece by Jolanta Burke, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Positive Psychology and Health, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences. In Why Some People Find it Harder to be Happy, Jolanta looks at positive psychology’s influence, acknowledging the implication that if we are unhappy, it’s our own fault (which drives me crazy). I feel certain there has to be something about the influence of nature and nurture on our ability to be happy and, sure enough, recent research offers a nuanced answer beyond “it’s both.”

She says: “… we are as unique as our DNA and, as such, have a different capacity for wellbeing and its fluctuations throughout life,” continuing “Some people might struggle a little harder to enhance their wellbeing than others, and that struggle may mean that they will continue to be unhappy for longer periods. And in extreme cases, they may never experience high levels of happiness.” So I’d like to add this: there may be pressure to be happy doing things you feel duty bound to do at this time of year, and if this doesn’t come naturally – for whatever reason – perhaps take off the pressure as much as you can, including being gentle with yourself. Easier said than done I know, and bringing your awareness to all this is the first step. As my teacher Dr. Richard Strozzi-Heckler would say: Take it easy, but take it.”

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