Well it’s not exactly Christmas yet, but the winter holidays are all about reunions and good cheer (for some people, anyway). My own Thanksgiving reunion makes me reflect about the joy that a returning loved one brings. I have not seen my own college student son for almost six months; it’s the longest we’ve ever been apart and I’m over the moon at having him home again. He’s the type of son that carries my groceries for me and goes shopping with me at 4 AM on Black Friday. Yes, that kind of son.
To me, this is the real meaning of the holidays: finding joy in being with your loved ones. Without meaningful connections with others, our lives have little meaning. We have evolved to have and nurture these connections not only with each other but with our world in general. That connection to others and the world results in shared goals and successful communities that has in turn given man an evolutionary survival advantage. In other words, we have evolved to form those connections with others and the world/God. People who have those connections are happier than those without them.
One type of glue that binds us together is the emotion that we feel when we’re with loved ones. For example, joy is the emotion that we feel when a loved one returns. Thus, reunions are reinforced and encouraged by this tremendous positive emotion, and keeps us coming back to one another.
Joy is so much more than the emotion of reunion. Joy is also the emotion that reinforces play and learning. Joy is a primal emotion that acknowledges and encompasses pain, whereas happiness is a tame cognition that makes us run from pain or displaces pain. Joy connects us to the universe, whereas happiness is having fun.
So, this holiday season, I wish you a Joyous Holiday Season instead of a Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas. May your holidays be filled with the joy of play, reunion and connection to your loved ones and the wondrous spirit outside yourself.
Source: Vaillant, G. E. (2008). Spiritual evolution: How we are wired for faith, hope, and love. NewYork: Broadway Books