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 seems 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!

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 a 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.

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

Dr. Gary McClain, MS, PhD, is a psychotherapist, patient advocate, blogger, and author, specializing in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses, as well as their families and professional caregivers.  His website is JustGotDiagnosed.com.  His email is gary@JustGotDiagnosed.com.  He welcomes your questions and comments.

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