It’s that wondrous time of year wherein toxic positivity is pushed more than usual. You know, everything should be magical, all problems and existing issues are supposed to disappear, and all concerns are expected to be washed away when the local radio station starts playing nothing but holiday music. Who can be upset whilst listening to jingle bell rock (32 times per day)?! Right? And while the mask of holiday EVERYTHING may be exciting and uplifting at first, there is usually the inevitable let down. Whether that let down occurs midway through the season after too much indulging, too much jingle bell rock, or just plain TOO MUCH – or – at the end of the season when all of the excitement build up comes to a crashing halt and reality sets in (“Oh wait, all my problems still exist??). The holiday season can act as a form of escapism and while it’s nice to escape once in awhile, your reality will always catch up, which begs the question – why not try to build a life (and appreciate your current life differently) so you don’t have to escape from it?
What might it be like to be truly “joyful” (*like, year round*), rather than displaying a holiday “joyful” decoration assigning that feeling to you and yours for a few weeks per year? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we have to be joyful and full of nothing but happiness at all times (what kind of therapist would I be if I jumped on the toxic positivity band wagon or pushed for presenting a false picture??). Honor your feelings. In fact, I believe that’s part of what will get you to true joy. In order to reach true joy, we must work toward honoring, respecting and accepting all the feelings that we have. I’ve said it at least 1,000 times and I’ll say it again, trying to “dodge” the perceived negative feelings doesn’t work, they will make themselves known with or without your permission, and usually magnify if we’ve tried to bury or distract from them. What I am encouraging is an intentional, very effortful, attempted shift in mindset.
As humans, we have a negativity bias, so we have to actively work out of that at times. So, what does that mean? The negativity bias is a part of our brain’s wiring and it is an evolutionary response to keep us safe and alive. When our old brain highlights the negative automatically, it thinks it is serving a protective purpose. However, it’s actually doing us a great disservice (at times) in this day and age. But there are ways around this negativity bias. The practice of gratitude, for example, which is intimately linked to joy, can help to start to rewire our brain. Being able to work toward putting your mental energy into what’s working well can help to start this mindset shift and will make it easier to view less-than-desirable situations more favorably as well. Our brains need to be taught and trained, in order to allow more productive thoughts to enter more automatically (much like the negative ones do).
So, what’s the first step? Awareness. Start to take notice when “ick” feelings come up (at first, these can be more readily identified when compared to trying to identify the automatic negative thoughts). From there, attempt to identify the thought that may have led to the “ick”. In the beginning, you will be getting to know your brain and eventually, you’ll know your brain so well it will be easier to dismiss when false negative thoughts come up. The more practiced you become at this exercise, the less time it will take to process through a troublesome thought and/or feeling. Lastly, replacing that negativity with gratitude, taking stock of what’s going well and making note of that will start to prime your brain to look for the good, and ultimately see the good (that was probably there all along, it was just being filtered out) more automatically.
As usual, this stuff is not easy and most will need guidance and help. Please feel free to reach out, I currently have a couple of spots open for online work for those residing in Texas or Indiana. I’d love to help you claim your true joy!
*Disclaimer: those with severe clinical depression, cannot “will” themselves out of a depressive episode and I am not encouraging this for those with or without a diagnosis. However, the practice of gratitude and mindset shifting is showing great results for most populations. Try it out, it can’t hurt.