Linda Arnold: Tidings of happiness, joy and contentment

December 23, 2018

“And to all a good night.” I find the last line of “The Night Before Christmas” to be so comforting — and so appropriate right now.

You know the feeling — when you’re ready to go to bed and you stop to reflect on the day (unless you’re running tomorrow’s to-do list through your head — or you haven’t hit the off button on the TV remote).

I have a sign on my nightstand that says, “Today was a good day.” That’s not always the way it feels, so this is a good tool to tweak my awareness of my blessings. And I realize the line in the poem can be interpreted in a lot of different ways.

A good night for one person may mean their children or grandchildren are safely tucked in. Or things went smoothly at work that day. Or the tension in a relationship has eased, and a health report turned out favorably. For others, it may mean one more day of sobriety from alcohol or drugs - or a warm bed for the night.

Those ‘firsts’ in your life

And for many others, it’s a “first.” That first holiday without your husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter or close friend. It may feel like nothing will make it a good night.

And you’re right. Because your feelings are valid. No amount of reassurances by others can change that. And it’s more difficult this time of year because, after all, ”’Tis the season to be jolly.”

While I’m all for positive thinking, I also realize the value — and necessity — in genuinely feeling our feelings. You need to give yourself permission to do just that (whatever it means for you). Maybe it’s seeking the comfort of loved ones. Or having more alone time. And then there’s the request I’ve received to “just hold me while I cry.”

Opening your heartspace

I’m finding myself seeking more “heartspace” moments — those internal and external experiences that give meaning to life. And I’m reminded of that quote that serves as an effective email sign-off: “It’s not the number of breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.”

Of course, I realize we can’t stay in a state of perpetual awe. We’d never get anything done! And it’s the contrasts in our lives that weave the rich tapestry. I’m just reflecting that it would be nice to have these heartspace moments a little more often.

You probably have them more than you think — when your dog or cat greets you with unconditional love (well, maybe not the cat so much). Or when you get an unexpected smile - or are permitted by a fellow motorist to switch lanes.

The point is you may not consider these things as blessings. It’s the little things that make up our lives, though — especially the quality of our lives. Don’t get me wrong: the peak experiences are great — and I’ll gladly accept those tickets to the Oscars if anyone has a couple of extra ones! It just doesn’t take a steady stream of those peak experiences to equal contentment, though.

Happiness, joy and contentment

Which reminds me of another theme — the variations on happiness, contentment and joy. Each has its own special sauce. The distinction may come down to duration. To me, joy is more of an episode, while happiness and, particularly, contentment, signify ongoing states of well being. (Cue the sound effect of a happy sigh.)

I have a sign in my kitchen that says, “Count the really good blessings twice.” And when I stop to count them, there are lots of really good blessings. It’s all about awareness, though — taking the time to stop and count them.

Whatever situation you find yourself in this holiday season — stop to think for a moment or two about those blessings in your life. If it’s one of those “firsts,” it may be hard to find them (understandably so).

If you’re anticipating another extended family get together that could be described as “Norman Rockwell Not,” this too shall pass. And your attitude toward it has everything to do with how YOU feel. After all, we pick our battles. Just stop and ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”

I made up a little rhyme to serve as a reminder for us: “Peace on Earth is a lofty goal but inner peace is within my control.”

2018 Linda Arnold Live Life Fully, all rights reserved. Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a syndicated columnist, psychological counselor and Founder of a multistate marketing company. Reader comments are welcome at linda@lindaarnold.org. For more information on her books, go to www.lindaarnold.org or Amazon.com

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