Forget the pasted on smiles. Here’s a practical way to add real happiness to your holidays.
Unlike Grandma’s fudge recipe, the first holidays post-split aren’t usually a recipe for happiness. More often than not, you’re trying to paste a smile on your face during the day and facing long nights of extreme sadness. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be like this.
A few years ago, Martin Seligman released his book Authentic Happiness, and in it he explained the Equation for Lasting Happiness. (An equation really appeals to my geeky side, but don’t worry if math isn’t your thing. I promise this is an easy equation to understand.)
The equation looks like this: H = S + C + V
H is Lasting Happiness
S is Inherited Happiness Set Point
C is Conditions of Living
V is Voluntary Actions or Daily Choices You Make
What this equation means is that to experience more lasting happiness, you can try to improve your inherited happiness set point, your conditions of living, and the daily choices you make.
Let's start with your inherited happiness set point, S. We all have one of these, and one set point isn't better than another. Your set point is just your set point. According to Seligman, adjusting S isn't so easy. Just like we can't really adjust our genes, we can't adjust our S higher to have more lasting happiness.
What about C, conditions of living? Obviously, when you're going through divorce your conditions of living are different from those when you were married. If you're like most people going through divorce, your conditions of living have changed for the worse. This is a hit to your happiness that often gets exacerbated during the holidays because of the intense emphasis on family during this time of the year. After all, it's natural to want to look at all the differences between this year's holidays and the traditions you enjoyed while you were married.
The interesting thing is that Seligman found that conditions of living for most people only have a 10% impact on their level of lasting happiness. This means that the conditions you're living in may not be playing that big a role in the unhappiness you're experiencing.
Well, if your conditions of living aren't really what's making you miserable and you can't really change S, your inherited happiness set point, you're left with V, your voluntary actions or daily choices you make, as being the major culprit in why you're feeling especially miserable during the holidays.
(If I had read that last sentence during the holidays when I was getting divorced, I would have been pissed! Just in case that's how you feel, please take a deep breath, and stick with me for just a bit more. I promise what I have to say isn't as bad as you might be thinking.)
I want you to know that I don't think you're consciously making decisions every day to choose to be miserable. I just think you might have either forgotten how to choose to do things every day that bring you happiness, or you've simply forgotten what brings you happiness. (It's natural to forget how to be happy when you're caught up in the chaos of divorce.)
Let's try to discover something that brings you joy right now. Think about your happiest childhood holiday memories. What made your childhood holidays so special? Was it a sense of anticipation? Was it all the delicious cookies and Grandma's fudge? Was it playing with your new toys? Was it seeing your favorite cousin?
Now here's the key question that will help you increase your happiness over the holidays right now despite your divorce. What can you do today to experience even a little of that joy you felt during the holidays when you were a kid? If you ask yourself this question every day and then do what you can do to recreate some of that joyfulness, you'll be taking major strides toward adding happiness to your holidays.
Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
If you haven't already, take the time to think about your happiest holiday memories from your childhood. What made those holidays so wonderful? Be as specific as you can in answering this question.
What can you do today to bring some of that holiday joy you had when you were a kid to today? Granted, you might not be able to be a kid again, but you can still figure out ways to enjoy the holidays like you did then. Maybe you loved watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, then rent the movie and watch it today. Maybe you loved the fudge your Grandma made, then see if someone in the family has the recipe and make it yourself.
Ask yourself what makes you happy every day of the holiday season. Every day you have choices you can make about how much happiness you allow yourself. If during this holiday season you spend a bit more effort doing something every day that brings you joy, you'll be sure to have merrier holidays.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.