Unlike Grandma's recipe for fudge, dealing with divorce over the holidays isn't usually a recipe for happiness. More often than not, it's a recipe for days of pasted on smiles and long nights of extreme sadness. Luckily, it doesn't have to be that way.
One of the things I teach in my teleconferences and to my clients is that when you're going through divorce, you need to learn the difference between your emotional box and your business box. You're in your emotional box when you allow yourself to express and experience all the emotions associated with your divorce. Depending on where you are in your divorce journey, your emotional box could be filled with pain, hurt, shock, denial, fear, loneliness, guilt, rejection, grief, or anger. None of these emotions are especially helpful for making the holidays merry and bright.
You're in your business box when you allow yourself to focus only on the decisions and tasks that you must address. For example, it's best to be in your business box when you're selecting your divorce attorney, and when you're negotiating the terms of your divorce settlement. Because these boxes have such distinct purposes, it's very helpful to be able to choose which box you're in to deal with different parts of your divorce. To give you a little practice with this idea, I'm going to ask you to step into your business box as you read the rest of what I'll be sharing with you about how to experience more happiness in your emotional box.
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. Because your divorce has probably added enough chaos to your life, we'll look at each of these factors separately instead of all at once.
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 much different than they were before your separation and divorce started. 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 as big a role in the unhappiness you're experiencing as either of us originally thought. (Yes, when I went through my divorce, I thought all my misery was due to my changed living conditions, my need to get used to them, and my efforts to change them.)
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 you're feeling that way too, please take a deep breath, and step back into your business box 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 be like I was, and you've either forgotten how to choose to do things every day that bring you happiness, or you've forgotten what brings you happiness all together because you've been so caught up in the chaos of your divorce.
Okay, I'm going to ask you to do me a favor now and step back into your emotional box for just a minute. I'd like for you to remember your happiest holiday memories from when you were a kid. Really think about what was so wonderful about those holidays and when you're done enjoying those memories, step back into your business box. 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 despite your divorce. What can you do today to bring even a little of that joy you experienced during the holidays when you were a kid to today? 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 emotional box during the 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. (I loved the fudge my Grandma made.)
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 into your emotional box. 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 a bit merrier holidays.
If you're having troubles with any of these suggestions, schedule a Complimentary Consultation with me. Together we can figure out a way to either make them more effective for you or else come up with something better suited to your particular situation.
More Divorce Advice from YourTango: