The Friday after Thanksgiving is traditionally when my family decorates for Christmas. So as usual, we pulled out the giant Rubbermaid containers which held our plethora of decorations, ornaments, and garland. My oldest two children are at an age where they can appreciate the holidays. They love pulling out each decoration, looking at it, and reminiscing about the memories each one holds. You can feel the joy as their excitement builds towards the end of December.
Then there is my youngest son. He is only two, but he managed to find joy as well. No, not in helping decorate the tree or listening to Christmas music. He enjoyed playing in the now empty containers which once held holiday trinkets. At first, he would crawl into the plastic tubs and sit there, happy as could be. Later, he discovered he could put the bin on top of himself like a turtle shell and curl himself up into a ball underneath it. We had been worried about trying to decorate with a two year old running around, but he was as happy as he could be for the entire hour we spent setting up the house.
This isn't something new. There is a continuous joke around the holidays that you'll spend a fortune on buying children Christmas gifts and then they'll enjoy the box more than the toy itself. But it is a principle that we should focus more on. Our joy should not come from tangible things like jewelry, video games, or fancy clothes. It should come from within us, and our ability to make any situation, even an empty box, into an occasion worth celebrating. This may seem like a cliche message. How many times have we heard something like, "Look on the bright side," or "The glass is half full, not empty". But it's true. Pure joy is not circumstantial, but can be found in any circumstance.
This holiday, when our children open up a new doll or video game, they will feel happiness. But happiness is not the same as joy. They will feel joy by reminding them that whether the gift they receive is $5 or $500, it was given to them by a person that loves them. They will feel joy when they remember that the roof over their head (no matter how fancy) or the meal at their table (no matter how extravagant) is shared with people who care deeply for one another.
We must work with our children (and on ourselves) to reset the barometer for happiness and success. It is not about what we physically have or what we can achieve. Those are good things and not to be taken for granted. But sometimes we need to refocus and look at less tangible things. It doesn't matter if a person is a world champion if they aren't able to see these great little joys. But a person who can see them, who can focus on them, will absolutely feel like a champion.
About the Author
Master Matthew Eyler is a 5th degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do and a New York State certified general and special education teacher. He has over 20 years experience practicing self-defense and teaching students of all ages and abilities.