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Perspectives: December is a time of cheer

December 7, 2018

Many people consider December as a month of cheer. We associate the word cheer with many different expressions. When we see someone downcast or with a frown on their face, we say “Cheer up!” We call the holiday time a season of “good cheer,” meaning a time of mirth or happiness. We “cheer for someone” by giving them them applause or a shout of encouragement. At a birthday or a special anniversary, it is customary to give a toast and say “Cheers!” We do good deeds or offer gifts to others to “cheer their heart.”

We have other expressions — happy go lucky, happy camper, happy place, happy trails, many happy returns, happy family, happy days, etc. These echo sentiments of delight or pleasure and are also associated with cheer.

We employ other phrases, too, that express our gladness or joy around this time of year, especially: Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, among others.

What is cheer? Cheer is that sentiment of joy we experience from some thing, some thought, some word or action related to other attitudes of gratification or satisfaction. The sentiment of cheer could be one of two types.

It could be psychological, depending on sensorial delight or pleasure. This sentiment is usually of short duration since the impacted senses are affected for a limited space or time and the effect dissipates quickly. That is why persons who receive their so-called happiness from material things need more and more and greater and greater stimuli over time to keep up their spirits. The Latin philosophers used to call this type of joy, laetitia.

Then there is the spiritual sentiment that depends, not on external stimuli, but on inner delight. Since inner delight does not depend on transitory and flash-in-the-pan experiences, the impact is far deeper and longer lasting. That inner delight rests on deep spiritual experiences that have profoundly impacted our heart and soul. The Latin philosophers used to call this type of joy, gaudio.

Most of our world, as we know it, is content with a more shallow cheerfulness. When basic pleasures and desires are fulfilled, most are “happy” or “delighted.” We are moved on a daily basis, especially through mass advertising, to place the source of our cheer on short-lived and ephemeral stimuli: a new car, a new item of clothing, a tantalizing meal, etc.

The deeper, more lasting cheer, however, does not rest on the whims and fancies of persons or on surprise circumstantial events. It is not dependent on gladness brought about by momentary satisfactions or transitory moods. It is a delight attainable only through something deeper, more permanent, more meaningful to our soul.

Can anything take away our cheer? Yes and no. Psychological cheer may come and go in our lives, depending on persons, events, circumstances and other stimuli in our lives. Unfortunate events or temporal disgraces could take away our psychological sentiment of cheer. However, no one nor anything can or should take away our spiritual sentiment of cheer. There’s a saying that goes, “You are not what you think you are. What you think, you are.” There is some truth in this. Proverbs 23: 7 says, “For as one thinks within himself, so he is.” In other words, if we want to be joyful, we can. The only one who can steal our deep spiritual joy is ourself. If we choose to lose or be robbed of our cheer or joy, it’s our own fault.

How do we keep cheer? Our life is what we make of it. A joyful existence is one that especially involves empathy and love. Reach out to others. Remember that cheer is contagious. We must share our joy with others. We must also help others to be joyful. “Come! Let us sing joyfully to the Lord! Let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation.” (Psalm 95: 1)

The Rev. Arthur Mollenhauer is the former pastor at St. Roch’s Parish in Greenwich and current pastor of St. James Church in Stratford.

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