Tomorrow will be Monday 23rd January, aka Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Cardiff University’s Dr Cliff Arnall empirically established that we collectively hit a low point because of the cold weather, fading Christmas memories and broken New Year’s resolutions. On top of this, more accidents happen than on any other day of the year, and more people are ill. On my part, I’ve tried hard to beat SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder) by doing something fun at least once a day. Yet last night I caught myself cursing the chirping birds because they promise spring while there is no end in sight to this cold and dark season.
So for all these SAD people, I’d like to share two sermons that picked me up today. The first was a secular one by Lord Layard at the School of Life, and the second was at Southwark Cathedral during Evensong. Lord Layard, LSE Economics Professor, preached the start of a mass movement. He aspires to a happier society in which people get their happiness from helping others. After years of academic research into the origins of happiness Lord Layard has established ten keys to happier living: GREAT DREAM. The first letters stand for five things to do on each day, Giving – Relating – Exercising – Appreciating – Trying out. Giving not only makes you feel better, but others as well, which again reinforces your own happiness. Neuroscientists found that doing good stimulates the same part of your brain as eating chocolate. Relating and Exercising are further keys to happiness, so why not try out something new such as livening up a January birthday party by having your friends act out improvised themes as my friend Kelly did last night?
The last letters stand for five things to train our mind in, Direction – Resilience – Emotional positivity – Acceptance – Meaning. Viktor Frankl recounts in Man’s Search for Meaning: “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Everyone experiences ups and downs, and while no one is happy all the time, it is your attitude that makes the difference between happiness and unhappiness. Linking back to Buddhist thinking, Layard stresses the importance of stepping outside yourself to find meaning in the long trail of human existence beyond your own self.
The sermon at Southwark Cathedral was based on a reading from the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes 3:1, which similarly expresses the long stretches of cyclical time spanning human experience. The King James Bible’s elegant words give meaning and perspective to the greyness of this season and down points in life. They were written in 1611 and like many of the King James Bible’s verses still speak directly to us across the centuries. They were used almost verbatim in the Byrds’ 1965 song ‘Turn Turn Turn (To Everything There Is A Season)‘:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”