Where is the Joy?

I’ll be honest with you…this is the first holiday season in many years that I’ve felt the “Spirit of Christmas” and been in a really festive mood.  The last 3 or 4 years it seemed as if I was just going through the motions. I’m not sure if it was the kids being grown, business pressures, key people no longer being here or my dad being ill. I was content…just not joyful.  Joyful in Webster’s Dictionary is “feeling, expressing or causing great pleasure and happiness”.

But good news…this year the sparkle is back!  It kind of came out of nowhere and I wasn’t looking for it.  Sure, I’ve opted to simplify some of the traditions that seemed “stale” and implement some new ones that weren’t as labor intensive.  But, its return was such a welcome surprise!  Last week we went and picked up a fresh tree, used fewer ornaments, listened to my 16-year old son’s choice of music as we decorated, hired someone to put up the outside lights – guess what?  I found myself feeling joyous as my son, Jake, danced around the Christmas tree putting up ornaments!

Taking Care of Self
Well-being is one area we are moving into more in our work with our clients.  The holidays are a time that the mix of home and work pressures can be overwhelming.  The American Psychological Association found that 38% of people say their stress increases during the holidays — only 8% of people say they feel happier. Employees are often contending with shortened deadlines, meeting expectations for the end of the fiscal year, and coping with stressed-out customers, which are just a few of the reasons for their increased anxiety. The resulting costs for employers can be quite significant.  Nearly one-half of the workforce hits “festive fizzle out” by December 18th, where they spend more time worried about the holidays than about work. Research finds that more than two-thirds of workers were less productive throughout December, with nearly one-half admitting that they did 10-20% less work. Reasons for reductions in output included a combination of exhaustion, lack of motivation, and even hangovers. Women tend to be hit the hardest, with nearly twice as many women reporting that they are more stressed about Christmas than men.

With all of that being said, it made sense to write about some of the “life hacks” to kick start your brain into feeling a little more jolly throughout this Holiday season.  As you know. I love to know the brain science of behavioral change and, recently, I read some of the research around this subject and came across the book “Joyful” by Ingrid Fetell Lee.  It will turn everything you think you know about happiness on its head!

Where Does Joy Reside?
There is a popular notion that true joy can only come from “within.” That is not necessarily true.  Here is what you have to know about Joy.  It can be triggered by seemingly mundane spaces, behaviors and objects we interact with and use everyday.  These can have a surprising and powerful effect on our mood. To uplift your spirits there’s no method you need to learn, no discipline you need to impose on yourself.  The only requirement is what you already have: an openness to discovering the joy that surrounds you!

The Grand Celebrations
In all truth, the winter holiday season is a month-long celebration.  We are celebrating religious milestones, family and friends, the end of the year, etc.  For centuries, celebrations have marked the pinnacles of joy in our lives.  Why do we celebrate?  From an evolutionary perspective, celebrations seem quite frivolous.  All the feasting and frolicking expend valuable resources and energy, while at the same time taking us away from productive endeavors (like work!). Yet all cultures celebrate and so do some species of animals.  When elephants are reunited after being separated, they stamp around excitedly, clicking tusks, flapping ears and entwining trunks.  Wolves are also known for their noisy reunions.  They howl exuberantly when they pack comes back together after splitting up for a hunt.   When chimpanzees return to their tribe carrying food, they are greeted by loud hooting followed by a wild rush of kissing and embracing before they sit down to enjoy the bounty.

Just think – our love for family festivities is shared by these highly intelligent species and that raises an interesting possibility.  Perhaps celebration isn’t just an indulgence, but instead serves some deeper purpose in life.  While we sometimes dread those big family events or parties maybe that is exactly what we need – being social and pulling in those we love.  At its best, a celebration cultivates an atmosphere of inclusivity.  Typically, during our holiday celebrations there is emotional energy that connects the people to attend.  The result (if all goes well) is a state of belonging and shared happiness.  Celebratory gatherings bring us together, strengthen a sense of community and enhance bonds.  Research shows that celebrating positive events with others increases our feeling that they will be there for us if we encounter tough times in the future.  So have those celebrations – that in and of itself will bring some joy in your life.

Trick Your Brain
What if you’re not feeling especially joyous right now even with the holiday celebrations and reunions scheduled?  I encourage you to take heed to the research and implement just one of these ideas to instill some joy to your holidays!

  • Set a round table so everyone is in close proximity and everyone is able to participate in one conversation.
  • Play a holiday movie when you’re wrapping presents and use shiny wrapping paper so that they sparkle under the tree.
  • Have a karaoke machine ready to go – music and dancing brings the energy up and promotes a sense of unity (even our brain waves get in sync!).
  • Turn off the lights and let the Christmas tree lights or candles be the only illumination in the room.  Then just be still.
  • Order groceries delivered to your house so you don’t have to be out in the mad rush which can automatically put you in a bad mood.
  • Plan out the week ahead and figure out when you’ll have a little “me” time – yoga, reading, meditation, working out.
  • Stop at a coffee shop or teahouse when you’re shopping. Sit and enjoy your drink for a couple of minutes.
  • Take an unexpected half-day off work to relieve get some much needed personal tasks done and relieve the pressure from the week nights and weekends.
  • Look for surprises. The other day I was shopping and a group of carolers burst into song. It was unexpected, and surprisingly, welcomed by all of the shoppers. It made us all pause and enjoy the moment.
  • Plug in your headphones and listen to holiday music on your phone while you’re standing in a long, frustrating line.
  • Watch a holiday TV special virtually with a loved one. If it’s a sibling it will bring you back to when you were kids watching it together.
  • Sit by the fireplace and sip a cup of tea or glass of wine. Fire is mesmerizing and relaxing.
  • Ask yourself what is one stressful holiday tradition that drains your energy that you might need to give up?

I know they are simple…but also powerful!  Here at Steople we wish you a joyous holiday season. We appreciate you allowing us to be a part of your life and look forward to supporting and encouraging you in 2020!