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  • Debbie Dougherty

Find Your Joy? Tis the Season to Be Jolly? That is a Lot of Pressure!

Updated: Jan 27, 2023


Debbie S. Dougherty
Parker Feeling Pressure--Picture by Freya Clark

Has anyone else noticed the gathering pressure to find #joy? There are books, and articles, and speeches, and blogs, all suggesting that we need to find our joy. Dictionary.com defines joy as “The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.” What’s not to like about joy?


Joy is awesome. Don’t get me wrong. I like being joyful as much as the next person. The problem is that seeking joy all the time, as the singular goal, is a lot of pressure. And of course, the holiday season, maybe the Christmas season most specifically, is all about being joyful and Jolly (suggesting joy or merriment), which increases the pressure to go about looking for this one single extreme emotion. Joy. Don’t believe me? Check out these popular Christmas songs:

  • Joy to the world

  • Joyful joyful we adore you

  • Tidings of comfort and Joy

  • Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

  • Tis the season to be jolly

If Christmas is the season for joy and being jolly, why is it that we see a spike in anxiety and depression during the holiday season? There are probably lots of reasons, but I think we should also consider the emotional pressure to feel joy and the inevitable failure that comes with it.

Emotional Granularity

I believe that seeking joy above all other emotions will 1. Set people up for failure, and 2. Cause people to miss the other good things in life. Consider the notion of emotional granularity, or the ability to precisely identify emotions. High emotional granularity is associated with positive health and relational outcomes. In contrast, people with low emotional granularity are more likely to suffer from mental health issues. Here is the thing. The constant search for joy is asking people to engage in low emotional granularity—to seek only the most extreme positive emotion, while ignoring all the other good things in life. No wonder we see a spike in anxiety and depression during the holiday season. The focus on finding our joy may be sucking the pleasure out of our holidays.


I also believe that the hyper focus on joy can make recovery from trauma more difficult, yet joy and happiness are necessary for recovery. A friend of mine was physically assaulted. They told me they had lost their joy and were going to take time off to find it. I told my friend what I am telling you: That is a lot of pressure. How about, first, finding your “okayness,” or peace, contentment, satisfaction, flow, hope, serenity, gratitude, or pleasure? Then maybe joy can happen.

Debbie S. Dougherty
Comfy Kid Hopes you are Okay--Picture by Freya Clark

Joy is an excellent emotion, but it is only one of many positive emotions that we can experience. So how about we expand our emotional horizons this holiday season? Maybe we can find satisfaction in being, well, satisfied. Or be content with contentment. Maybe we can feel pretty good about being Okay. Perhaps we can start singing songs like, have a hopeful, peaceful, and at least an okay Christmas. Or maybe, tis the season for contemplation, fa la la la la. . .


I hope the holidays, be that Christmas or otherwise, bring you the good things in life, whatever that means to you at this moment in time. Me? I am feeling satisfied. I am pretty good with that.


Be well my friends!

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