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Creating and Sustaining Holiday Joy

Shawn Dell Joyce
Idaho Mountain Express

December 10, 2008

Holiday joy can be a fleeting thing this time of year, as many people feel more like Scrooge than like Tiny Tim. Behind the advertising blitz that bombards us with consumerist images of smiling, well-dressed people giving cheerfully wrapped packages is the dark truth of depression. The U.S. topped the list in depression out of the 14 countries researched in a recent World Health Organization poll.

Much holiday malaise can be traced to a sagging economy and holiday expectations. A parents group, the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, wrote letters to 24 leading toy companies and retailers to express concern about ads aimed at kids. These parents expressed dismay that they can't afford the pricey toys that toymakers are advertising heavily to our children, and children feel diminished when they don't get pricey toys.

It is hard to believe that we are descended from settlers' children who rejoiced at receiving a penny and a stick of candy as their main holiday gifts. In the 1800s, some of our kin earned $1,500 per year, and many of them had one nice set of clothes for church and one shabby set for daily life. They worked twice as hard for a simple diet because they had to grow most of what they ate themselves. Over the course of 200 years, we have grown an average of 4 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier; our houses have more than doubled in square footage; and we no longer find joy in a penny and a stick of candy.

We need to reclaim our holidays as times of family togetherness and joy, no matter what shape the economy is in. Even if you don't celebrate the Christian holiday or the Jewish Hanukkah or African Kwanzaa, you still can celebrate a "secular Sabbath," in the words of New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman. A secular Sabbath is a break from e-mail, cell phones, television and all the other distractions of modern living that keep us alienated from one another.

"You need not be elderly to remember when we had no choice but to reduce activity on Sundays; stores and offices -- even restaurants -- were closed, there were certainly no electronics, and we were largely occupied by ourselves or our families," Bittman wrote.

Ways to get more joy from the holiday season:

--Find joy in the mundane moments. Notice the details of the season: new fallen snow, laughing children, glittering icicles and the sparkle of a lit tree.

--Avoid comparing your decorated house with your neighbors' houses or your co-workers' holiday plans with your own and so forth. Instead of comparing, which is almost always unfavorable, be genuinely glad for your fellows, delight in their joy, and you in turn will feel greater satisfaction.

--Be satisfied. Don't look for satisfaction in material things because you won't find it there. Satisfaction is a spiritual concept and cannot be bought or given.

--Find the true meaning of the holiday. A gift of time to the local soup kitchen or the local Toys for Tots program will deliver a greater feeling of joy than spending more money at the mall. Look for ways to do generous acts anonymously this season. Rekindle a sense of faith in humanity as a gift to your community.

--Bring holiday cheer to work with you by baking cookies for the break room and letting your employees and customers know how much you truly appreciate them. If you work at home, bake for the neighbors, and then meet them.

--Cherish family time. Spend more time sharing joyful experiences, such as caroling, baking, going to Christmas plays, or making gifts together, instead of shopping.

--Smile through the fear and doubt. Holidays can be dark and dangerous times for the depressed. Go out of your way to smile. Be cheerful so you spread a little joy rather than being Scrooge-like and sad.

--Put gratitude in your attitude. Start your holidays off with a gratitude list noting all the wonderful tangible and intangible blessings you have in your life. Counting your blessings will keep you focused more on what you do have.

--Say "thanks" by calling or writing a thank you note right away after a gift or good deed. This prolongs your joy and shares it with the giver.

--Walk the dog! It's been proved that exercise is as effective at treating depression as medication. Take a few minutes every day to get out and walk briskly. Don't forget to smile and wave to the neighbors.

Keep the spirit of the holidays in your heart all year. Remember to give often and generously. Make volunteerism part of your daily routine. Research indicates that both the giver and the receiver of a good deed get an endorphin boost from the act.





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