Joy: the most important ingredient

This week I’d like to send you over to my friend Scott Noelle’s website to read his Thanksgiving message (then come back!).  It was particularly timely for me last week, as I spent a part of Thanksgiving day feeling anything but thankful.  My 10yo was screaming, my 6yo was attempting to create havoc in response, my 15yo walked in and began making snarky commentary, my dh was cleaning violently, and I was thinking (among other things that I’d rather not mention) that I’d be lucky to ever get around to cooking the meal that I didn’t really want to cook in the first place.  Glad I didn’t invite you to dinner?  Indeed, life here is not always sunshine, unicorns and rainbows.  However, by the end of the day all was well.  We had a pretty nice Thanksgiving.  I hope those of you who celebrated Thanksgiving had one that was just as nice, though perhaps with a bit less drama.

 Here in the U.S., we’ve officially kicked off the winter holiday season.  Some people enjoy this time, others don’t, but it seems to me that being overstressed, overbooked, overindulged and overwhelmed from late November into the New Year is almost a cliché.  We have fond memories of holidays past when we were happy and relaxed, joyfully anticipating visiting with people we love, eating delicious foods, giving and receiving surprises from one another.  Then we do everything we can to try to recreate these past experiences.  Sometimes it even works!  But the efforts involved also seem to create the stress, full schedules, poor self-care and overwhelm.  It’s like we’re caught in a system of intermittent positive reinforcement- continuing to do things we don’t enjoy out of hope that we’ll have moments we do enjoy.  Kind of crazy isn’t it?

 So, this year I’ve decided that I want to live an actual season of joy.  You can join me if you like.  Every tradition, commitment, or obligation I come across as I move through the next month will be evaluated with the following questions-

 Do I want to do this? Why?

 Last Thursday, I didn’t much feel like making a Thanksgiving dinner.  I had it planned.  I had all the food here in the kitchen.  But I was feeling pretty burnt out on cooking in general and with tensions running high the last thing I thought I wanted to do was make an elaborate meal.  And around here, more than a main dish and a side dish is an elaborate meal.  But I’ve learned from some incredibly wise people that I have the ability to change my attitude about a situation, and that my attitude generally sets the tone for my entire family.  So, I retreated to my bedroom and began to examine my feelings about everything that was happening and my contributions to the stress. 

 I’m going to step aside here to mention this is not a “blame myself” moment.  I am very aware that I am not responsible for the feelings or actions of my family members.  I also know that blaming is not transformative.  Blame, whether aimed at yourself or others, keeps things stuck right where they are.  I also know that there is nothing I can change except what is within myself, and know that when I take responsibility for my contributions to a situation- my confrontational statements to my husband and my lack of willingness to stop and listen to my older daughter’s frustration and my younger daughter’s distress- I can look at whatever painful thoughts fueled those actions and decide whether or not those thoughts are serving me.

 In my examination of my thoughts,  I eventually came back to “Do I want to do this?” and “Why?”.  After considering for a bit, I decided that since we needed to eat *something*, and this meal was planned and required fairly little preparation (comparative to a usual Turkey Day feast) that I actually wanted to go ahead and cook it.  I truly had been looking forward to the meal.  I also realized that mostly I was doing this big meal because it is TRADITIONAL and something I’ve enjoyed in the past.  But the fact is, I’ve never actually enjoyed preparing a large meal alone- what I’ve enjoyed is preparing a delicious dish or two (usually in advance) and spending a day in the company of people I love.  Frantically cleaning in order to be able to cook a meal I wasn’t truly interested in cooking was separating me from the loved ones who were right here in my home and I was preventing myself from connecting with them in a meaningful way because I was focused on “having a nice Thanksgiving”- which in reality was just the outward trappings of our usual traditions. 

 To wrap up what turns into a very boring story- I made dinner.  My husband made the mashed potatoes.  My 6yo got very excited about the meal and decided to set the table.  We ended the day with pie, courtesy of Mrs. Smith and Marie Callender, and laughter.  I ended up feeling love and gratitude for my family, and for the knowledge that joy is the most important ingredient in any holiday. 

 So, as we move into the December holiday season I am not dreading any activity that is to come- but I know that if I find myself in a place of dread I am free to decide- “Do I want to do this?”  And ask myself “Why?”.

 And next Thanksgiving, I might just make reservations.

 Feel free to add your experiences in the comments! 

 Joyfully yours,

Lesley

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One Comment to “Joy: the most important ingredient”

  1. I am regularly amazed by how often I get caught up by chores and then get grumpy because my “tradition” is ruin. Ruined by the chores I created!! What a silly game.

    The best thing that happened to me this Thanksgiving was that my company arrived early and I had no time to clean. Once I relaxed with the idea that my house was “as is” we had a great visit and everything was easy and relaxed. But had I fought the whole thing…I’d have never caught up the entire weekend and joy would have been banned from my house.

    You are spot on.

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