Caroline Beson, LPMT, MT-BC Small Steps Music Therapist
It’s “the Holidays.” The time when “all is merry and bright.” But there are so many reasons we can feel resentful instead of joyful during this time of year.
First, the media coverage: Whether or not there is a “War on Christmas”, the unemployment rate, the presidential candidates… And did you hear that a new Star Wars movie coming out?! Then, add on family responsibilities: the gifts to buy, the decorations, the additional “stuff” that you take on, the difficult task of avoiding a dozen sweet treats offered to you. And on top of it all, we are approaching the winter solstice. Our days are short; darkness fills each evening, perhaps reminding us of dark times.
This isn’t the “Merry Little Christmas” we imagined. For us, it isn’t a “Happy Hanukkah” or “Joyous Kwanzaa.” For whatever reason, we simply aren’t feeling that awesome burst of positivity. Many of us have been focusing our energy on the obtaining of joy in these holidays; we put extra pressure on ourselves to make the holiday perfect in order to gain maximum joy. But real joy doesn’t work that way.
I don’t know about you, but the feeling “joy” comes very rarely for me. It can be especially elusive when I feel that I’m on the spot. Pressure from others and from myself often brings about the opposite effect. I feel resentful or apathetic when I feel that I must choose a positive emotion.
The truth is: I can choose any emotion I want. As an adult, I can make decisions that help me modulate my emotions. I like to save anger and sadness for times when I am by myself or with someone who understands me well, and can handle my difficult feelings. To keep myself away from the negative emotions, I use a “reframe” of the situation. When I am upset because someone has done something that I find disruptive, I can choose to yell to express anger, or I can choose to make a comment that expresses my concern that the other person’s behavior is interfering with my space. I modulate away from feeling angry by first reframing the situation: instead of “that person is so mean, they need to learn their lesson…” I think, “that person probably forgot what was going on around them, they might need a reminder from me.” and then by acting in accordance to the reframe.
How can we use the reframe to bring joy closer during the holidays? I will provide some examples.
There is a long line at the store. Initial emotion: anger. Desired emotion: joy and acceptance.
Your first reaction might be, “This is crazy. What was I thinking coming here? I can’t possibly wait through this whole line.”
Your reframe might be, “I can use the time in this line as a break from thinking about my mile-long to-do list. I can make a quick phone call to a friend that brings me joy” or “I didn’t want to shop in this store anyway. I’m so glad- this gives me an excuse to leave now. I can shop online or buy these things later!”
A cheerful coworker gives you a gift. It’s something that you don’t think is appropriate. Initial emotion: criticism and resentment. Desired emotion: joy and gratefulness.
Your first reaction might be, “Ugh, another gift that I feel I need to write a thank you note for… and I would never use something like this! What idiot thought of that?”
Your reframe would be, “This person wanted to do something nice for me. The execution was interesting, but I am glad that they were thinking about me.” You can skip the thank you note, regift the gift, return it, or donate it to charity. It doesn’t really matter. You just need to focus your efforts on finding the tiniest “nice” part that can give you a bit of joy.
You hear a song that you loathe, or someone singing your favorite song wildly out of tune. Your initial reaction: irritation. Desired emotion: joy.
Your first reaction might be to cover your ears and scream “La La La La” or to simply let this music turn your mood sour.
Your reframe would be to imagine a person who would find this joyful. Would a child love this song? You might imagine that someone else is singing. (Use your “mind’s ear” just like you use your “mind’s eye” to imagine moving furniture around a room).
Sometimes the reframe leads me to joy. Other times, it helps me turn away from anger and toward acceptance. Sometimes it gets me to a place where I can feel gratitude mix with melancholy- like saying “I am missing something or someone that is no more, but so glad I have the memory.” If you decide to try the reframing technique, give yourself credit when you bring yourself to any emotion that is more comfortable to you than your initial emotion. Celebrate often with music that lifts your mood, the kindness of friends, or a moment of silent meditation.
Remember that one or two flashes of joy can provide fuel for future joy, like a snowball gaining size and momentum as it rolls down a hill. If you had a talk with someone who was caring and tender, spend a few moments reliving those feelings. Conversely, if watching the news makes your blood boil, turn it off. You can read the headlines from a print news source at a time when you feel you can better manage the negative stories.
Lastly, keep in mind that music can be a major mood moderator. You can control the kinds of music you hear, so if the radio is souring your mood, change the station. Surround yourself with music that suggests joy, happiness, and comedy in order to push away the negative moods and truly find joy in the holidays.
All out of ideas for “joyous” songs? Try the songs on my Youtube playlist “JOY”: