The Burden of Joy
Let’s talk about the burden of joy, as I see it.
It’s Christmas, and everywhere, it seems, there is joy. People posting how delighted their kids are at the elf’s latest shenanigans, cards with newsletters about how lovely life is, even Andy Williams reminds us that “It’s the most wonderful time of the year and everyone is telling you to be in good cheer.” But, as I was thinking about it, this pressure to be joyful turns quite burdensome and really is an excellent reminder of FOMO, and it’s newest cousin...JOMO.
As moms, we feel that it is our job to create the perfect holiday. That’s a lot of pressure for one person, unless he lives in the north pole. Just because we are now responsible for one of only 18 perfect Christmases, our other duties don’t come to a screeching halt. We still have to run our house, work our jobs, parent our kiddos, and everything else we cram into our 24 hours. Suddenly, adding the perfect Christmas to our plate seems like an impossible job, let alone with a smile on our face the entire time.
I have always loved Christmas. With a name like Merrily, I think it was part of the contract for my life here on earth. I love it. I love the planning, and the prepping, and the mystery, and the way my home looks, and the happiness of seeing all of my friends and family….It’s MY time. I love every single thing about it, and actually feel really sad on the 26th that it’s already over. But, in a conversation with one of my favorite humans, I was reminded that a lot of moms don’t share my joy. The holidays can be very stressful, and are almost dreaded by some people. At first, that made me really sad. I had a super hard time wrapping my head around that. But then it made me think about joy in general.
One of the job descriptions of a mom, in addition to Master-Finder-of-Lost-Things, is to hold and create joy for ourselves and our families. There is actually a tremendous amount of guilt associated with not feeling joy. And a tremendous amount of guilt for not creating the most joyous experiences for our kids. Along with the word FINE, which as I have said before should be considered a four letter word, the feeling of guilt needs to be recognized, and eliminated in parenting.
In beginning this personal journey to enjoy this season (OMG, even the word “enjoy'' literally has “joy” in it...but it actually means, to have a pleasant time...not to be jumping around wearing Christmas bells!) I challenge you to set aside a few quiet moments to think about why you are feeling the pressure of joy. Obviously, it is ingrained in our society. But, do you hold limiting beliefs that make you feel that your holidays are always crappy? Is this a true reality, or a slightly skewed perception? Who is making you feel that it has to be perfect? If it is an external force, then perhaps it’s time for a good conversation with that person. More likely, it is coming from within. That is actually an easier fix. As I always say...it starts with cutting yourself some slack. And some good, old fashioned journaling would come in handy right about now!
We have all heard of FOMO...The Fear of Missing Out. Some are certainly cursed with it more than others. We could discuss for hours the curse of social media and what it is doing to our kids. But I really want to focus on us moms right now. We also feel that pressure from social media. We like to think we are above that. Afterall, we are grown adults. But we aren’t above it. We fall victim to it, just like our kids do. Why did that family have such an amazing year? My year was crap! I can’t believe so-and-so just got another promotion. They are all having a party and are having so much fun. Why didn’t I get an invite...
FOMO actually comes from the amygdala...the part of the brain that senses danger, and keeps us vigilant. As early humans, we had to have a little FOMO...because if you weren’t paying attention, and missed out on the cues, you may be the last to run and get eaten! Or miss the cues that it’s dinner time, and starve. Dramatic? Yes, but I want you to realize that it is actually a psychological response that you can’t entirely help. It also triggers a scarcity response. “If she is getting all these amazing clients, there won’t be enough for me.” Scarcity mindset is real, and it’s really an entirely different topic for a different day...but be aware that it exists.
Here’s what I would challenge you to do. Let’s make FOMO work for us...by being mindful. We have talked for months now about mindfulness...remember, observing your thoughts (without judgement) is the first step to mindfulness. So start to pay attention to yourself when you are looking at Christmas cards and social media posts. If you start to feel the twang of FOMO sit with it for a second. Feel the feels. What is happening to your body? What are you actually feeling? Are you really wanting to do, or go, or have what you are “missing out” on? Likely, it is stirring up some feeling that you are hiding from. Do you have FOMO that the group of girlfriends you haven't seen in ages is all getting together for cocktails because you really miss them, or because you are longing for a tight knit group that has that bond? Did you want to get all dressed up and go to that party, or are you feeling pretty negative about how you’ve been taking care of your appearance lately? There are a thousand examples, and none of them are pleasant. This is going to require courage to look within, and bravery to change a few things. Really take notice of the things you are feeling FOMO about, and dig way down to see what you are really wanting. Remember, jealousy is often not about wanting what the other person has, it is about being dissatisfied with what you have. I read about a great challenge the other day….When you see things that you are jealous of, or are causing FOMO, write down what you really want, and what you currently have. Then spend some time thinking about that. For example….if you are constantly feeling FOMO toward a friend’s amazing trips, write down your current travel plans. Then write down what you truly want. Don’t exaggerate here...if you would truly not travel the world, don’t write it down. But, if you have always wanted to go to Bali...put it on your list. Now, more often than not, you may have to search for a middle ground. Perhaps Bali isn’t in the cards...but if you are looking for a tropical, warm vacation, where you get to swim with the fishies, maybe you can save up for Hawaii. Or Florida, or Southern California, whatever. Maybe, you can find a way to save and save and save and get to Bali! My point is, use FOMO to question what you really want, what would really cause you to feel joy. And then have the courage to make a few changes.
There is a new trend now, as people have started to recognize FOMO, and it is the cousin, JOMO...joy of missing out. Sometimes we are able to create our necessary boundaries, and say no to things we don’t want to do. Then, when we realize we are missing out, we are happy about it. This can be construed in a multitude of ways, of course. There are those times when we really never wanted to do something in the first place, and we are happy that we don't have to. There are other times when we do something all the time because we should, and then the glorious moment arrives when we stop “shoulding” ourselves. This is the sweet spot. This is where JOMO works for us. There comes a time in our lives, if we are lucky, that we make a switch. We start to value our time, and actually, ourselves a little bit more, and we realize that we don’t have to do the things that we don’t want to do. We don’t have to spend our time with people who are not aligned with our souls (to be a little dramatic) This is insanely freeing and wonderfully healthy.
As with most new boundary-setting moments, we have to be careful. There is a liberation that comes with setting any boundaries and it can be contagious, and bleed into all areas of your life. Suddenly, you may feel like a toddler who refuses to do anything he doesn't want, refuses to eat anything he doesn’t want, and will stare you down, arms crossed, defending his boundaries, whether physical or emotional, at all costs. Do not be that toddler. Remember, you are a grown-ass woman, and as much as I would love to see you stand on the mountain with your cape flowing behind you declaring, “I don't have to do anything I don't want to”… you are still a mom, a friend, perhaps a spouse, and perhaps an employee….If you want to retain those titles, perhaps slow your roll. There are definitely things we do, and must continue to do, because they are important to the people we love. There is a difference between not really wanting to do something, and really, really not wanting to do something. When your intuition, and your physical self lets you know this is a boundary that you want to create, tell the people involved why. Do not make up some bullshit excuse to get out of it, because it's just going to roll around again next time. Be clear, be kind, and be firm. THAT is when the Joy in JOMO arrives. If you weasel your way out of something that you really don't want to do...while you may be happy to not do it, you will be missing out on JOMO, because you will be feeling GOMO (I just made that up) Guilt of missing out….wait...then you will have FOMO about JOMO because you will be feeling GOMO!
The point…. If you decide to say no to an invitation, or request, or obligation….do it wholeheartedly, honestly and then own it and kick your feet up with a glass of champagne and a Hallmark movie and do what brings joy to you! In that moment...you will simply be feeling joy, while having cut out the “missing out” part.
It is ok, and natural, not to feel joy all the time. The hardest thing for most moms is what I challenge you to do in the next couple of weeks...ask yourself...what do I want to do right now. This is hard for a lot of us. Because more often than not, we take into consideration sooo many things when we make a decision. What would make my spouse happy? What will be easiest for the kids...the list goes on. But in that rare moment (and I realize that simply recognizing the rare moment when it happens is sometimes a great challenge on its own.) But in that rare moment when you have the opportunity, ask yourself what do I want. In squeaking in more of those moments, you will build your own joy.
Pay attention to what makes you feel joyful and build that into your life. If you remain mindful, you will start to notice the little things that make you smile. Maybe the sound of water brings you peace. Can you build in some time to get near the lake, or an ocean, or buy yourself a little water fountain? Maybe the first four sips of coffee are your favorite. Can you set a boundary in your home where the littles leave you alone for 5 minutes in the morning, so you can savor those first few sips. For me, I feel tremendous peace when I see my Christmas tree lit up at night. So, after everyone is in bed, I turn off all the lights, take a few minutes to tidy the living room and spend some time alone with my tree. It’s not the once in a lifetime trip to Bali that will teach you to find joy (seriously...someday I will get to Bali)...it’s the five minutes of coffee, or time with your Christmas tree, or favorite candle that will build joy.
I leave you with three takeaways:
It is not your job to hold joy for everyone.
They will remember the feeling of Christmas, more than the specifics of where the elf hides.
Joy comes from mindfulness...paying attention to what really matters to you.