Joy – The Antidote for Holiday Stress
Some recent “self-care” discussions about the holidays suggest that, for many, stress overshadows the joys associated with this time of year. But you don’t have to go along with the crowd. There are a few practical steps you can take to prevent your Christmas spirit from getting lost in the frenzy of this time of year.
Interestingly, 2006 research by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a premier research and strategic consulting firm, documented that the holidays are, first and foremost, a joyful time. During the holidays, people report many positive emotions such as happiness (78 percent), love (75 percent), and high spirits (60 percent).
So, it’s worth repeating some tried and true ways to eliminate stress and feel more joy during the holidays.
Giving to others – Through the years, giving to others has brought me joy. Sometimes that included monetary giving, but often all that was needed was a listening ear, words of inspiration, or companionship. And each time, I felt like I was the one on the receiving end. I can certainly relate to the words of Mark Twain, “The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.”
And on a deeper level, St. Paul wrote, “God loves the man who gives cheerfully. God can give you more than you can ever need, so that you may always have sufficient for yourselves and enough left over to give to every good cause.” (JB Phillips)
Gratitude – I learned a big lesson at a Thanksgiving Day church service when a man stood up in the testimony period and gave gratitude for all his blessings – seen and unseen. What?! We have blessings that are unseen? As I pondered this, I realized that undoubtedly God’s goodness had blessed me at times when I wasn’t even aware of it.
Gratitude is joyous thanksgiving to the Divine for good received. And it is powerful! It lifts our thought upward to God and away from any stressful thoughts and feelings. The Bible certainly points to the healing power of gratitude. Christ Jesus gave thanks before feeding the multitude with just a few loaves and fishes, and thanked God for hearing his prayer before raising a man from the dead.
When we habitually give thanks to God, we can’t help but be joyful because we are recognizing the goodness in our lives and seeing our connection with the source of all good.
Karl Barth, a Swiss Reformed theologian of the twentieth century saw that joy must accompany gratitude when he penned, “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”
Prayer – One of the richest lessons I have learned in my spiritual practice is that prayer is the remedy for all needs! Quiet time spent in prayer is a perfect antidote to the “holiday rush.” In my prayers, I affirm that God loves and cares for me no matter how stressed I feel or what I seem to be going through. As a young woman, I read in I John 4:8, “God is love,” and I have carried this thought with me through my adult years. Prayer that acknowledges the presence of universal divine Love restores joy in the face of anything – family discord, financial challenges, world problems, health issues – including stress – and grief.
One year, about two months before the holidays, there was a sudden death in my immediate family. At a time when my cup usually spills over with joy, I found myself grieving – and overwhelmed. While I wanted to be shopping, baking, and visiting with family, instead I was boxing up my mother-in-law’s personal belongings, discarding pieces of a life I loved so much. I felt such a deep loss of the love that I had always felt from her.
Turning my thought to God instead of fixating on the sadness all around me, I realized the love my mother-in-law had always shown toward me was actually God’s love being expressed, and it was continuing – just as her life was continuing. That was the beginning of my healing of grief. Soon afterwards, when cleaning out drawers, I found special Christmas gifts she had bought for me and my family – gifts that were purchased long before Christmas. Finding them was evidence of her love for each of us expressed in the present.
I continued to pray as the holidays drew nearer, often pondering this statement by Christian healer Mary Baker Eddy: “This is the doctrine of Christian Science: that divine Love cannot be deprived of its manifestation, or object; that joy cannot be turned into sorrow for sorrow is not the master of joy; . . .” By the time Christmas arrived, I was feeling genuinely joyful.
So, instead of believing that stress is inevitable during the holidays you can get on board with the spiritual joy that comes from giving, gratitude, and prayer.
I am reminded of a song I learned as a child: “Get on board little children, Get on board little children, Get on board little children, There’s room for many a more.” Today, there is room for all of us to get on board with joy–the calm assurance that God’s love is here not only at the holidays but all year long!