Sitting with a dear friend who lost her beloved husband, job and home in succession many years ago, I was truly tested in my efforts to support her as the holidays approached. How can I help make things right in the face of such devastating loss? What can I do to help her gain some stability and equanimity amidst the trauma? 

Loneliness, sadness, emptiness and depression. Many people feel these emotions during the holiday season, more than any other time of the year. The public displays of festivities, images, sounds, and smells trigger memories, expectations and the longing for inner peace. Everyone in their own way is on a lifelong quest to attain internal quiet and calm; to feel that all is right with the world and within oneself. The question is how do we achieve that sought-after state?

Since we met doing humanitarian work, we went down to volunteer at a local humanitarian organization. Helping the nonprofit develop their holiday fund/friends raising plan and their work with children, the sick and less fortunate, life took on more meaning. For my friend, the work gave her purpose and reason to get up in the morning. Helping others with even less eased her personal pain and motivated her to find ways to move forward. Eventually through connections she met there, she found satisfying and well-paid work. To this day she still volunteers at the organization. As she says, she found inner peace there; it gives her joy to be able to help others gain what was so elusive when she started volunteering there. Peace. 

Peace. We generally recognize the value of peace when we are missing it. When our minds are ricocheting from one calamity to another, real or imagined. Or when actual bullets are whizzing by. We are yearning for the serenity and comfort where we feel safe from physical and mental worries. 

As in the case of my friend, it is easier to shift our own mental and physical challenges when we help others. Our perspective broadens and compassion grows when we support others with graver obstacles. We find gratitude and inner peace when we give from our hearts. Whatever your talents and interests, you can find someone who is eager and grateful for your assistance. People are looking for peace everywhere. In actual war situations of course, but also when one is unable to fulfill their basic needs, food, clothing, shelter, to get a fair job, wage, education, healthcare and more. 

The feeling of loneliness crops up for many during this season. The marketing hype is that we are supposed to be celebrating with extended family and friends. If one is separated from people they care about, life may look bleak. Volunteering and working with others to give back is a powerful antidote to isolation and sadness.

Small things make a difference. Offering to watch a neighbor’s house while they go away, volunteering at the community center, spiritual organization or school, taking care of a friend’s pet, or helping at the local animal shelter. Let your interests guide you to what you do, and you may discover that you have a new set of friends and pastime. Most of all those voices in your head, the ones who are judgmental and critical, will quiet down. Peace will gently rest in your mind and permeate your being. Isn’t that what you really want for the holidays?

If you are grateful for your life and wish to do more on a bigger scale, join an organization that is working on the issues you care about. Ultimately it is all about peace. An organization that has stood the test of time and is a favorite of mine is Rotary International. The organization is in all the places that I’ve ever worked in and more. In the middle of some of the most difficult to access places, Rotary is there to help. And in my own country, USA, Rotary is also here to help create positive lasting change. Peace, healthcare, economic development, equality, environmental stewardship and education. January 17-18, 2020 please join us to learn how Peace starts with you.