–By Alexis Marie Chute
The song lyrics in “Joy to the World” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” say it all. Christmas is meant to be a season of cheer and happiness. Funnily enough, though, we women sometimes look for this feeling of joy in all the wrong places.
Who else has a mental checklist that sounds something like this:
- Find the perfect holiday party dress that disguises certain key areas
- Shrink said key areas by hitting the gym and pounding back smoothies
- Buy memorable gifts for family and twenty close friends
- Arrive extra early to the kids Christmas concert to get the best seats
- Hunt for a hilarious present for the office’s Christmas gift exchange
- Pull out all the decorations and turn the house into a winter wonderland
With a list like this, how does a girl not burn-out by January?
I confess: Sometimes I don’t feel all that joyful around the holidays. It is a hectic time of year. I often find myself looking to external events, people and dates on the calendar to drum-up my holiday cheer. It’s all too easy to let my joy slip-in second place after my to-do list. Unfortunately, I believe these tendencies are not mine alone, nor are they reserved solely for the holidays.
How often do we as women find ourselves stressing over checking-off the boxes of our ideal lives? We think, “Once I lose these twenty extra pounds, then I’ll be happy.” Or, “Once I accomplish this one goal, then I will feel fulfilled.” And, “Once I’ve found Mr. Right, then my life will be complete.” I’ve been there – but even when we lose the weight, get ahead and land the guy, we still may not experience deep and lasting joy.
I remember the day I had my “joy epiphany.” It was the same day my daughter had hers. Hannah was a month away from turning seven-years-old. It was early autumn and we were canoeing as a family, surrounded by nature splashed with fall colors, listening to the calming swoosh of water as our craft glided through the lake at Elk Island National Park. Whatever Hannah was complaining about, amidst all that peaceful beauty, I cannot say – but I had had enough.
“This is the worst day ever,” Hannah complained. “I am NOT happy.”
That was it. I felt the hot mama-rage rise in my chest and I turned quickly on my seat in the canoe to look my girl in the eyes. I did not think, I just spoke. “WHO CONTROLS YOUR JOY?”
Either the wobbling boat or my question halted her, mid-whine. She did not respond. “Who controls your joy?” I asked her again. Her eyes searched the sky for an answer. She looked at me with a blank face.
“You do!” I threw my hands, and my paddle, up in the air. “You control your joy, Hannah! Not me or your dad or your friends or anyone or anything else – it’s you. You are the only one who can make yourself happy.”
It wasn’t until the words were out of my mouth that I knew they were also true for me. And that my mom was right. Memories from twenty years earlier immediately filled my mind. I remembered how my mother had told me the same message, though with her own particular slant. It had made me furious at the time because, of course, I thought my happiness was her responsibility.
Since that day in the boat, the question, “Who controls your joy?” has become my personal mantra, not to mention a guiding force in our family. I ask the question of my children. My husband asks if of me. And vice versa. The words cause us to pause, reflect and refocus.
What better time to reevaluate our joy than during the holidays? It is the perfect season to get out of the ruts we find ourselves within. Maybe you are not your ideal dress size, or your husband doesn’t chip in enough around the house, or your kids can be a royal pain. Or maybe you are struggling with the truly tough stuff of life, like celebrating Christmas without a job or a stable home.
Maybe you are grieving your mom or dad, a sibling or your best friend, or – like me – without a baby that you had planned and dreamed of for years. My second child, Zachary, was supposed to be a Christmas baby. Instead, he was born two months early with a tumor around his heart. He died in my arms. Life can be so hard – and all this can percolate to the surface in a season that tells us so distinctly how we should be feeling.
At the same time as we experiencing these real and heavy emotions, and while we may feel pulled down by the weight of the holidays, there is one thing that is within our control. It is our JOY.
I often ask myself, “Who controls your joy, Alexis Marie?” This question has caused me to re-think my checklist. Now I focus on:
- Doing the things that make me happy instead of being a people-pleaser
- Caring more about people than I do about possessions and appearances
- Celebrating who I am, just the way I am
- Feeling empowered that I can control my response to anything life brings my way
- Being content that I cannot do everything, and that is okay
- Enjoying the moment because life is short and joy cannot wait
Alexis Marie Chute is an award-winning writer, artist and filmmaker and has set herself apart for her bereavement advocacy. She is a leading expert in creativity and healing. She has become an advocate in supporting and educating others on how to process their grief in creative and authentic ways, promoting healing through the arts and sharing stories in community. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and photography from the University of Alberta, and her Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Chute is a highly regarded public speaker and has traveled around the world presenting on art, writing, and the healing capacities of creativity. Her documentary film, also called Expecting Sunshine, subtitled, “The truth about pregnancy after loss” follows her second pregnancy after loss. She is widely published in anthologies and magazines, and her artwork has been exhibited internationally with critical acclaim. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with her husband and their three living children.
Expecting Sunshine: A Journey of Grief, Healing and Pregnancy After Loss will be available on April 2017 through She Writes Press wherever books are sold. Learn more about her book and documentary, Expecting Sunshine: The Truth About Pregnancy After Loss, at www.ExpectingSunshine.com.