This time of year is the holiday season and the annual ending of the Gregorian calendar. It is a time when the romantic notion of the reuniting of families and generosity of giving comes to the surface. It is also a depressing and stressful time for many people, in part because the shortening of daylight and also in part because it is the time of the metaphorical journey of the dark night of the soul, preparing for the return of the light. Medical professionals and counselors agree that this time of year has the highest incidence of stress and anxiety for western cultures.

For me, in the past this time of year was conflicting. Watching my children on Christmas Day always held a special joy. Anxiety and stress over taxes and money at yearend caused by spending habits over the preceding year often outweighed the joy of my children. I hope they didn’t notice the underlying fear in my heart. With so many people now heavily in debt with retirement funds dwindling and so many people struggling to make ends meet in this economy I have great compassion for their situation.

I heard a great teacher speak recently about the differences between the western culture and eastern culture. His talk had nothing to do with our religions and philosophies. It had to do with the sense of community. In India there are millions of people who have absolutely nothing; no housing, no jobs, no money, no medical care, no material abundance of any kind. The remarkable thing is that most of these people are happy.

In the United States, we have so much compared to the rest of the world that it is overwhelming Even with this disparity of material wealth, the United States consumes many times more anti-depressants and mood-enhancing drugs than any other country in the world. The incidence of anxiety and depression in the US is tens (if not hundreds) of times greater than any other country in the world, especially India. There are many Indian doctors who have never heard of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, ADD, ADHD or other behavioral disorders, much less treated a patient with it. This raises the question of why are we so depressed and so stressed out when we have so much more than any other country in the world.

The answer is community. Even though the vast majority of India is poor, their families and communities are actively involved in each other’s lives. When one person is suffering, everyone does whatever he or she can to help that person. Not in a sense of charity, but as a sense of duty. There is a saying: in the west, if someone saw a man beating a donkey, the people would stop the man for the donkey’s sake. In the east, they would stop him for the man’s sake. What that means is that in India, people actively get involved in the lives of others with whatever they can share with that person. Even though people are destitute, they are happy.

In the west, we glorify the notion of independence and that everyone should mind his or her own business. We also glorify the notion that we should solve our problems ourselves and to ask for help is a sign of weakness. In this same regard we are trained to refuse help because we do not want to feel indebted to anyone else. We constantly lie to each other and ourselves when we are in financial or emotional distress that everything is “okay” because we do not want others to know we are suffering or appear to be failures. Wow. Victimhood evolved to an art form.

My father grew up in “The Great Depression” (capital letters meaning the 1928 economic crash). He remembers that his parents would regularly cook extra food at mealtime and share it with their neighbors who had no food to eat. The neighbors would not ask for it, it was freely given. He remembers he had a happy childhood when everyone came together and shared. Children’s imaginations took the place of toys and material presents and they made do with what they had.

The point is that we have deluded ourselves with the belief that abundance has anything to do with happiness. All of the evidence is that material success has nothing to do with happiness and may even be counter productive. What is more important for happiness is sharing and community. Communicating with each other and opening up our lives and circumstances apparently is more effective in bringing true happiness than working extra hours to get more money to buy more gifts.

I live in Phoenix Az where there are hundreds of thousands of houses sitting vacant. I would bet the same is true all across the country. How many homeless people are there in this country, or people who can’t afford housing? I think there is something fundamentally wrong with this picture. Are there any bankers reading this article I wonder.

The people I know that run soup kitchens and homeless shelters tell me that holidays are no problem because everyone wants to volunteer during those times. The rest of the year they struggle to provide necessary sustenance and support to the needy because no one wants to volunteer then. Internet dating is becoming more and more popular because people feel lonely and want to connect with their “soul mate”. What I believe they really want is to feel connected, to share, to feel loved. The same goes for many people who are in a relationship.

We need to learn something from our Indian cousins and start to take an interest in each other. Not for some idealistic spiritual notion but because the evidence is that we would be happier. We need to communicate with each other more and know who needs help; again, not out of a sense of charity but a sense of duty. How many elderly people are there out there eating pet food because they can’t afford the “high priced spread”? Why don’t we know the answer to that question? I have observed that we think it is more efficient to set up charities and delegate our responsibilities by letting someone else handle the charity work. We think it is more efficient to appoint someone to do what we need to do ourselves. That may be true, but we are paying a terrible price for that efficiency.

My wish for everyone this holiday season is their fear of the future, anxiety and stress be removed, that they get a good night’s sleep and feel refreshed every morning. I hope they will get to know everyone that lives in their building, block or complex. I hope they cook a little extra and share it with someone that could use it. Maybe even slip a couple of dollars in there as well. Most of all, I hope that everyone will understand how precious and special they are, how precious and special life is, and marvel at the miracle of their existence. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Author's Bio: 

James Robinson has enough life experiences to fill five biographies. A trial lawyer for almost 30 years, a cattle rancher, horse trainer, dog breeder, restauranteur, alternative healer, international seminar leader, ordained minister and deacon, father, surivor of two marriages, and international entrepeneur, James has been successful in everything he has done. He has studied with philosophers, internationally known gurus, healers and sages. Through all of his trials, tribulations, successes and especially his failures, James has learned a lot of lessons about suffering, pain and happiness. He has written scores of articles and regularly shares his wisdom on the internet, facebook, twitter and James regularly travels to all four corners of the world to share his wisdom, healing and humor.