December is a busy month for everyone -- there are so many presents to buy and wrap, holiday parties to host and attend, and deadlines to meet at work before taking off a few days. For me, December of 2018 is also busy because I am meeting with many clients who are trying to get divorced before the end of the year, in part because of the changes in the tax law and in part to make a fresh start for 2019.
I work with successful, smart, talented, hard working, good looking parents who share stories about their children and their families with me. The families with whom I work have chosen to work through issues such as co-parenting and splitting assets and liabilities through mediation rather than litigation. Getting divorced is one of the hardest challenges a family can face, right up there with unemployment, illness, and/or losing a loved one. Many of my clients are struggling right now to just get through the day, so trying to figure out how to get through the holidays this year can be overwhelming to them.
Ingrid Fetell Lee of The Aesthetics of Joy says that "often, when a crisis hits, we are tempted to forgo joy and focus our attention only on dealing with the problem at hand. We rely on grit and tenacity to help us push through the difficulty and get to the other side." She suggests that "we’re usually better off if we allow a little joy into our struggle. Positive emotions play an important role in resilience. They provide relief from stress, allowing our bodies and minds a moment to recover. They also broaden our mindset, breaking us out of gloom-and-doom cycles of rumination and helping us gain new perspective on our problems. Research by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson (among others) suggests that feeling joy during a stressful time actually “undoes” the negative cardiovascular effects of stress on the body, and that people who experience positive emotions amid adversity cope better and are more resilient in the face of future problems."
So here are just 5 tips for trying to stay joyful during tough times:
1. Say thank you and express gratitude. Be grateful for all that you do have and may take for granted -- good health, good friends, good food to eat -- and don't dwell on what you don't have.
2. Find purpose and have passions. Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., says in Psychology Today (December 31, 2017) that "the truth is, what gives our lives purpose and meaning changes over time. It particularly changes after a big life event or crisis. Some self-reflection is a good way to start discovering what truly matters to you."
3. Surround yourself with positive people who inspire you. Make meaningful connections. Lean on friends and family.
4. Do something for someone else. Volunteering to help people or animals will give you joy. For example, Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia has a Mitzvah (Good Deed) Day every Christmas with projects for all ages with the goal of making the holiday brighter for those neighbors in need in the community. This year volunteers will cook and deliver meals to shelters and group homes, help clothe children and families, and help animals in area shelters.
5. Sing and dance. Ingrid Fetell Lee says that "singing and dancing offer powerful ways to shake off stress and feel our way back toward joy. Studies have found that when people sing together, their heart rates, brain waves, and emotional states become synchronized. Similar changes happen when people move in concert. Singing and dancing together can even promote cooperation and generosity, which may be why shared vocalizations and movements are an integral part of religious or spiritual traditions around the world."
Let me know what you do to stay joyful in tough times to add to the list!
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, peaceful, and joyful Christmas and New Year!
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.