A Recipe for Holiday Joy throughout the Year

The holidays are in full stride. Downtown shines with holiday lights and our homes radiate with gifts, menorahs, nativities and pine trees. We sip cider, sing carols to neighbors and celebrate with loved ones. This is the season of joy.

Joy is a wonderful word. We feel joy at the most important moments in our lives—graduation, marriage, childbirth and special events with loved ones. Some people name their children “Joy” as an expression of their happiness. When we feel joy, we feel a lightness, jubilation and high spirits. Joyfulness is possibly the most positive human emotion.

I recently asked myself the question, “What is the secret to lasting joy or happiness?” This question seems particularly relevant during the holiday season when we surround ourselves with loved ones and sing songs of joy.

I’m no expert in the field of positive psychology, but I’ve read enough to know that happiness can be divided into two general categories: fleeting and lasting.

Fleeting happiness, also called hedonism, includes self-indulgent and immediate pleasure. It could be something as simple as eating chocolate ice cream or skiing Utah powder. It could be a temporary high that comes from using mind-altering drugs. These experiences can be self-gratifying for a time, but the pleasure is not lasting. Over time, hedonistic happiness can be crippling, as is the case these days with opioid addiction.

A well-known study compared the relative levels of happiness of lottery winners and a control group. It turns out lottery winners return to the same average level of happiness several months after winning the lottery as the control group. Some become even sadder.

Why is this? I think we have ample evidence that wealth does not improve emotional well-being (after meeting a certain level of comfort and subsistence). In many ways, wealth only complicates our lives.

Authentic happiness includes lasting and meaningful feelings of joy. It comes from having a purpose in life, much larger than self. It could be the building of a great company, the nurturing of a great family or the cultivating of a great community.

Holiday wish

My holiday wish is that people will use this time of year to tap into authentic happiness. I propose a simple formula.

Step one: Be grateful for whatever you have. People who are grateful tend to live healthier, more fulfilling lives. I recently heard that gratitude is the mother of all positive virtues. I think that is a powerful statement. Whatever your station in life … be grateful.

Step two: Find your purpose. What are you good at? What brings you positive energy? What propels you? Find your purpose and cling to it with tenacity. My husband is a furniture-maker. He’s very good at it. Our lives have been blessed by his pursuit of his amazing talent.

Step three: Focus on your strengths. If you are an enthusiastic person, build upon this strength. If you’ve been blessed with a humble heart, share your secret with others. The world needs more humility. If you possess great wisdom, put it to use in solving problems in your family, work, community, nation or world. The world needs the perspective you bring. You won’t change the world by concentrating on your weaknesses. Focus on what you do well.

Step four: Tell the people you love exactly how you feel and treat them even better. This is a recurring theme in my life as I have a large extended family, two extraordinary children, and a loving and kind husband. They mean everything to me; I’m happiest when I give them my very best.

Bob Dylan wrote a song about love that goes like this:

Love is all there is, it makes the world go ’round
Love and only love, it can’t be denied
No matter what you think about it
You just won’t be able to do without it
Take a tip from one who’s tried

So if you find someone that gives you all of her love
Take it to your heart, don’t let it stray
For one thing that’s certain
You will surely be a-hurtin’
If you throw it all away

Through all of the presents, carols and food of the holiday season consider this holiday wish – pursue lasting happiness. Start with gratitude. Next, identify your life’s purpose and build upon your strengths as you pursue this purpose. Finally, let the people you love know exactly how you feel. Love really is the most important thing in life and life’s journey is better when traveled with the ones we love.

This simple recipe will help us enjoy a happy holiday season. Happy holidays everyone!

Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.