‘Tis the Season of Joy


By Christine Sine | Twitter @christinesine

Dec_Christine‘Tis the season of joy, or is it? As we move towards Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s coming, most of us are anything but joyful. One of my friends told me recently that she hates Christmas because she always eats too much, spends too much and commits to too much.

My friend is not alone.

The Christmas consumer frenzy focuses us away from the things that really matter and strips us of our joy.  What we as individuals have come to see as important – individualism, status, and competition – diminishes rather than improves our happiness.

Consumption, not relationship, is the goal of society. Wealth, not happiness, is the measure of success.

Recently I read an interesting PBS interview with sociologist Christine Carter: What Makes Us Happy?. She suggests we need to develop happiness habits or joy moments. Connection with people is at the top of her list. Evidently the strength of our ties to others—and our connection to God—is one of the best predictors of happiness.

Gratitude, forgiveness, and little acts of kindness all contribute markedly to our joy.

And what should we avoid? Materialism and consumption and feelings of entitlement.

Her advice on how to find and nurture these joy habits and increase our happiness could have come straight out of a Christian exercise in contemplative practices. What she and a growing number of happiness gurus suggest is that pausing for mindful moments when we sit, relax, shut out the busyness and reflect on what we enjoy or are grateful for markedly increases our joy factor. Mindfulness guru Soren Gordhammer believes that even one mindful breath can make a difference. The site whil.com encourages 60 seconds of meditation to focus reduce stress and relax.

Hmm … sounds a little like fixed hour prayer or liturgy of the hours in miniature to me. I am not sure that one mindful breath is enough to change our direction but I am sure that it will help and if we can move ourselves in the direction of a spiritual discipline that calls us to prayer for a minute or two at regular times throughout the day I think we will be amazed at the impact it has on our joy levels.

Let me suggest three joy giving possibilities as we move towards Christmas.

First, determine to pause for a few moments at two or three times during each day for a contemplative, Christ based mindfulness practice. You might like to repeat the Jesus prayer, or recite a breathing prayer like this one that I wrote a few years ago:

God I breathe in your life,
Into every corner of my being.
Christ I breathe in your love,
Into every cell of my body.
Spirit I breathe in your peace,
Into the very essence of who I am.
God I breathe in you,
And am filled with the wonder,
Of your presence. 

Or you might just like to sit in silence thinking of the things you are grateful for each day. For Advent this year I created an Advent prayer garden. I stood rocks in it with love, joy, peace, hope and gratitude written on them. The garden sits on my desk and each time I look at it, I am reminded to stop and focus on God for a few minutes.

Second, slow down a little. Look over your schedule and determine one unnecessary activity that you could do away with each day. Also consider ways to focus on one thing at a time. How could you be more mindful in each of your activities becoming really present instead of thinking about your next appointment while you’re in your current one. Slow down, focus on your breath a little bit and enjoy this moment.

The third piece of advice I’d give you about finding joy this Christmas season today is to try and truly connect with the people who really matter to you–your family, your friends and your neighbours. Also consider one way that you could give Christmas away this year to someone who has little to celebrate, perhaps a neighbour who lives alone, or a homeless person in your community, or to disaster victims in the Philippines or the tornado-impacted mid-West.

As people of faith we know that relationships, beginning with our relationship to God, make us happy and fulfilled. We also know that giving to others makes us happier than accumulating for ourselves does. Yet when it comes to prioritizing our time and use of resources, consumption and wealth often win.

The question we all need to grapple with and that I want to leave you with today is: 

If we really want to be happier and experience joy this Christmas, what should we do differently? 


About Christine:

Christine SineChristine Sine is a contemplative activist, an author, a keen gardener and Executive Director of Mustard Seed Associates (msaimagine.org). Her latest book is Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray. She blogs at godspace-msa.com.