The Holidays: Joy, Joy, Joy?

What are your holidays looking like so far? 


Past memories, good ones and not so good ones.  Demands, some realistic and others not realistic, some coming from you, some coming from others.  Your schedule, maybe too much going on, or maybe not much at all. 


Where is the joy? 


Someone asked me that question today.   And I thought about how, during the holiday season, I always spend a lot of time talking to people about how to get it all done, how to say no, how to keep holiday stress down.  Basically, how to get through the holidays – and get them over with. 


What this made me consider is that, in the process of taking care of ourselves during the holidays, it’s easy to become so focused on avoiding stress – “surviving” – that we lose sight of the joy. 


So it just seem like a good idea to take a minute and share some ideas with you about having a little more joy in life. 


First, how are YOU defining joy?  Lots of wild and crazy fun?  Lots of people around you?  Lots of great “stuff?”  Joy doesn’t have to be about lots of anything.  Joy isn’t about being giggly or super-positive or swimming in abundance. It’s about feeling calm, at peace, accepting of the triumphs, the challenges, the disappointments and the sorrows of life, understanding that there is more to life than meets the eye.  Joy begins inside of you: activities that give you pleasure, doing things that give meaning to your life, giving of yourself to others, listening to music, spending time with the most important people in your life, spending time on your own.  So, I will ask it again.  What does your joy look like?


Fewer expectations equals more joy.  Decide to let the people around you be who they are going to be.  We are all human, in spite of our best intentions.  People will break promises, not show up when they said they would, not behave in the way we think they should.  The holidays can bring out the best in us, but also the not so best.  And the stress and over-commitments of the holidays can throw anybody off.  Celebrate the qualities that you appreciate the most.  Remember that old Beatles song?  Let it be!


Trim the money tree.  It’s all too easy to get caught up in the more-more-more this time of the year, as the marketers try to drill into us the misperception that the more money we spend, the more we will be loved.  Decide what you can spend and set limits.  Let the people you spend money on, and with, know what you can and can’t do.  You’re not in a competition here.  While you’re at it, find other ways to show your love, other ways to give.  Do gifts have to be about money?  How about offering to help someone clean their closets?  An evening of babysitting?  The holidays are a great time to celebrate togetherness, and that doesn’t have to cost a thing. 


Pick your battles.  The holidays mean interacting with a lot of different people, including friends and family members who have their own idea about what the holidays should look like, their own holiday traditions, their own expectations.  Somewhere along the way what they want is going to be different from what you want.  See the conflict on the horizon?  Take a step back and ask yourself: “Do I have to be right all the time?  Is this worth fight for (and about)?  Use the holidays as a time to practice patience, to focus on the joy of the holidays, and not sweating all the small stuff.  In other words, joy isn’t about being right. 


While you’re at it. Consider starting some new traditions.  Tired of all the family gift buying?  The big dinner at your place?  Maybe it’s time to think outside of the box, to consider making some changes to the usual holiday routine, like a gift grab bag, or low cost fun gifts, or no gifts.  And maybe a potluck dinner.  Just think: you may not be only one who would like to do things differently this year.  But you may be the only one brave enough to start the discussion.   


Lighten up on yourself.   Have some compassion.  Remind yourself that you are facing a lot of challenges and that you are doing the best you can.  You can only do what you can do.  You are going to make some mistakes along the way.  You aren’t always going to be perfect.  You’re human.  If you stop being so hard on yourself you will also be more likely not to be so hard on others. 


Ignore the green-eyed monster.  It’s hard not to look around over the holidays and compare yourself to other people, and wonder why they seem to having such a fun, stress-free holiday when you aren’t.  And to feel a little envious.  Everybody’s on their own path in life, you’re on your path, other people are on theirs.  Instead of being envious, celebrate the joy that is in the world over the holidays, and the different ways that joy is being expressed.  Remind yourself that joy can be loud, and joy can be quiet. 


Watch your self-care.  The need to take the best possible care of yourself doesn’t take a break over the holidays.  Get enough rest.  Watch your diet.  Schedule breaks.  While you’re at it, say no when you need to.  Your first priority is still you. 


Celebrate yourself!  Regardless of whether you have people in your life over the holidays who give you joy, or grief, or some of both, there is one person that you can celebrate with: yourself.  Do things you enjoy.  Treat yourself to a movie.  Turn off the phone and listen to music or watch a holiday movie.  Go people-watching.  Give yourself permission to just hang out for while. 


Find something to smile about.  Or someone to smile at.  Instead of waiting to feel like smiling, try smiling and let the feelings catch up.  Try setting the mood in your house by being the first to smile.  Try smiling at the people you interact with when you are out running errands.  You might even try to put the smile in your voice when you’re on the phone.  Everybody’s a little stressed this time of year.  See if you can change the mood.  As I always say, we are all in this together. 


Make a spiritual connection.  Regardless of your specific religious or spiritual tradition, the holidays are a time to get in touch with the spiritual side of life.  Considering the greater meaning in life.  Connecting with what is really important.  Reviewing the year.  And getting involved in the traditions of your religious community if you belong to one.  What’s a better way to experience inner joy? 


Joy!  Joy!  Joy!  Find your own path to joy this holiday season.  And have a joyful holiday!