How to keep Grinches from stealing your joy
Holiday songs, movies, and stories have more to them than jingle bells and boughs of holly. They say something important about the human condition that applies throughout the year. This is true about the story I’m writing about this year, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! I’ll refer to the original Dr. Seuss book. If you prefer your Grinch on a screen, watch the 1966 TV special with Chuck Jones, Boris Karloff, June Foray, Thurl Ravenscroft, and no Jim Carrey.
Regardless of how you experience the Grinch’s misadventures, we’ve all had times when we feel someone is stealing our joy — especially when we are our own Grinch.
I must stop this Christmas from coming, but how?
We all know folks whose hearts are two sizes too small, but Grinches aren’t always people. They can be personal misfortunes, stresses at home or work, illnesses, or the general attitude of the world around us. They can come from more chronic problems like unresolved family conflicts, loneliness, depression, or anxiety. A Grinch is anyone or anything that tells us, “You’re not allowed to feel joy.”
This voice is especially loud the first holiday season after the death of a loved one. The gifts we’ll never buy, the chair at the dinner table that remains empty, the missing voice in the Christmas carols, the conspicuous absence at family gatherings — everything about the holidays reopens wounds that haven’t healed.
At times like these, we wish we could skip the whole painful season. We wish we could hide away from the happiness everyone else is radiating because we can’t feel it in ourselves.
But we cannot stop Christmas from coming. It comes. How do we deal with it? And is it possible to feel joy in the worst of circumstances?
Maybe Christmas…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!
Grinches aren’t the only ones who don’t understand that Christmas doesn’t come with ribbons, tags, packages, boxes, or bags. The holiday season, at least in the United States, is based on the idea that we must consume to feel happy. We usually declare “this is the best Christmas ever!” after we find everything we want underneath the tree, and our ugly sweaters are bulging from all the calories we’ve ingested. When we can’t afford to buy that new game console for our kids or are physically unable to cook that traditional feast, we feel even less deserving of joy. We ruined Christmas!
When I feel that way, I think about my parents who lived through the Great Depression and World War II when people had to make do with what they had. We can think of the people in Puerto Rico who continue to live in a humanitarian crisis. We can remember those who suffer from poverty and war around the world. In those situations, people share what they have and comfort those who have less than they do. By setting aside our own problems, we open ourselves to happiness. By helping those in need, we feel valuable. By bringing joy to others, we also bring it to ourselves.
Happiness isn’t something we buy. We create it. The joy of the holidays can inspire us to seek that joy within ourselves and share it.
And he, he himself! The Grinch carved the roast beast!
What if we can’t completely keep the sadness away? We invite the Grinch in and give it a seat at the holiday table.
When we open ourselves to joy, we don’t pretend that the hardship or loss isn’t there. We recognize it as an unexpected guest that will be with us for a while. Maybe it will take up residence. But we learn to live with it. We accept it. We make peace with it. In time, it loosens its grip on us and becomes a fixture we don’t notice anymore. Or we may embrace it as the shadows that enhance the brightness in our lives.
In Dr. Seuss’s book, the Grinch tries to rob the Whos of their joy. He fails because the Whos found their joy — not in things — but with each other. In seeing the joy in Whoville, the Grinch found it in himself. And by giving the joy back to the Whos, he became a part of their happiness.
Grinches can’t steal our joy. That’s because joy isn’t something we can buy or possess. We create it, and we then increase it by sharing with others. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, we can find something we can give and some way we can open a space for happiness.
Pictured: The original cover for How the Grinch Stole Christmas! By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20379903.
Originally published at Matthew Arnold Stern.