Last year, two months before Christmas, I began an "experiment in joy." I decided to be joyful for the next 90 days. Since this was an experiment, there was room for failure.

If at times I felt gloomy, short-tempered, or just plain blah, I didn't beat myself up for it. Rather, recognizing that self-condemnation is a chief enemy of joy, I would simply return as best I could to my quiet resolve to rise above all circumstances and do whatever it took to lay hold of joy. In this way, I hoped over the course of 90 days to learn some of joy's secrets and to emerge a more jubilant person. I pictured my joy as a flabby muscle that, if exercised every day, would gradually grow stronger.

The first month of my experiment was amazing. I'm a moody person by nature, and never in my life had I experienced such a steady flow of pure happiness. By the second month, however, difficulties had set in. As Christmas approached, my days were more characterized by struggle than by joy. Still, each day in new and surprising ways, a measure of joy kept coming to me. I was learning not to focus on the darkness but always to look out for the light.

No Party Animal

Christmas tends to be a hard time for me, as it is for many. As the angels gather to announce their glad tidings, there is a parallel gathering of the ogres of materialism, busyness, unrealistic expectations, old sadness, and family strife. To be touched by the true joy of Christmas, it seems we must first encounter our own joylessness and our clumsiness at celebration.

In our family we traditionally refer to the day before Christmas Eve as "Christmas Adam." Similarly, the day after Christmas is "Christmas Cain," and the next day is "Christmas Abel." For years we have celebrated Christmas Adam ...

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