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As the holiday season approaches, I suggest there is still some happy left in “Happy Holidays”.  By happy, I mean the experience of pleasant emotions e.g. peace, contentment, ease, comfort, satisfaction, love etc.

Take a moment to reflect on your emotions as the holidays are approaching.  Are you experiencing pleasant emotions or are many of the emotions painful or difficult?  If you are anything like me, you may ask yourself, where is this thing called “happy”.  “Is this even possible?”

If all the emotions are magnificent and glorious….read no further.

The context for asking the question takes place within my my mindfulness meditation practice that I started 20 years ago.  Recently, I stumbled across a talk by a favorite meditation teacher, Guy Armstrong, entitled “Dealing with Difficult Emotions”.  Guy was a teacher at a mindfulness meditation retreat that I attended a number of years ago at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, MA.

I was curious about what he had to say when I came across his talk on the IMS website. I had been experiencing difficult emotions and I was curious if he might provide some insight.  These talks are available to anyone to  download at http://www.dharma.org/resources/audio

In his talk he suggested a couple of ideas that have been resonating with me for weeks and I would like to share one with you.  He shared his experience with taking pleasant emotions for granted.  He speculated on why he would take them for granted.  Guy went on to say that we live in a culture that is idealistic and is very good at defining the way it “ought to be” or “what should be” and that these expectations could cause us to ignore the positive emotions, as we are expected to have them in our culture.

I considered his suggestion and I agreed with him.  At the same time, I mused whether our high expectations may set us up to experience difficult and painful emotions, which are harder to ignore.  On reflection, I suspect this is true for me in a big way!

“Where and what is this thing called “happy” has been a curiosity for me.  It surfaces not only at Christmas, but, at many other times.  For example, think of the last time you were on vacation.  What happened to the happiness that was promised in our minds in the several weeks leading up to the vacation?   Did we not say to ourselves to wait for the holidays, then, I will be happy?

How does this apply at this time of year.  What are your “ought to be’s”?  And where do they come from?  For me, many of my “should be’s” come from the media.   Are we not presented with many images of peace, harmony, good will, love etc. between friends and in families?   The problem is that reality isn’t based on ideals.  When our reality conflicts with the ideal, it can lead to a struggle.  As Guy Armstrong asks in the lecture, when “reality” conflicts with “ideals”, who wins usually.

We may take many of these ideals for granted and when the reality of our lives conflicts with our ideals, known or unknown, the emotions may start to surface.

Try: If you are experiencing a lot of emotion….reflect on your ideals about the holidays.  Where do they come from?  Do they need to be met in order for you to be happy?  Or is what you have right now good enough.

If you are experiencing a lot of emotion….try the informal mindfulness practice STOP (an acronym).

  • S – Come to a complete stop sitting or standing
  • T – Take a couple of intentional breaths
  • O – Identify and observe any emotion that is present.  Reflect on any ideals you have that are influencing the emotional experience.  Try to relax into the emotion by letting go of any struggle to get rid of the emotion.  Emotions, by definition, are temporary and will pass.
  • P – Plan on letting go of any ideals that are unrealistic and substitute your view with a picture that you can live with.

Try a mindfulness meditation class.  It will help you bring more awareness and understanding of emotion and you will learn positive ways to relate to your emotions that enhance health and wellbeing.

Rediscover the “happy” in “Happy Holidays”.

What do you think?