By Anonymous

Understanding is the key to right principles and attitudes, and right action is the key to good living; therefore, the joy of good living is the theme of A.A.’s Twelfth Step. (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 125) How appropriate it seems that there are twelve months in a year, and we have twelve steps in the program. The joy of good living is the theme, and it blends right in with Thanksgiving in November, all the religious holidays in December, and is topped off with the New Year’s Eve celebration. The Holiday season does bring a lot of joy to most of us, but it also brings distress to some of the less fortunate ones who have not yet been blessed with the gift of sobriety and peace of mind, in and outside of Alcoholics Anonymous. (A.A.)

I used to be uncomfortable about the holidays

I used to be uncomfortable about the holidays, as I never knew how to act around normal people. I felt like a charity case and never got into the spirit of reaching out to others. My family always celebrated Christmas, and I always (due to my discomfort) would put a damper on it by complaining about the tacky gifts that people would buy for each other, the mad rush to go shopping and all the commercializing it had become. I explained this to a dear friend once, and he asked, ”Does the rest of the family enjoy it?” I said yes. He then said, ”Why don’t you just take a back seat and watch the joy in their eyes as they experience these things? I did that exact thing and have been doing it ever since. It has changed my appreciation of this time of year.

This change of attitude has inspired me to apply the unselfish lessons that I have come to understand, and I spend the holiday season looking for the opportunity to brighten the lives of those less fortunate than myself. I often do these things anonymously and without fanfare. I also consider how I used to feel when I was the one on the receiving end of a charitable gesture and am very careful to do these things in a way that preserves their dignity. I do not have to wait for the holidays to do these things. Every day is Christmas at my home. 

More recently I started to contemplate the difference between joy and happiness; I always thought that they were synonymous. They are in some respects, but they do have some different qualities. I am a happy person as the result of being very diligent when it comes to working the steps of the program and practicing the principles in all my affairs. I am not without the little inconveniences and irritations that come with my day-to-day living activities, but they are nowhere near the problems I encountered prior to becoming a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. They do not lower my level of happiness because I simply take them as they come. Over a period, as I mature in this journey, my mean level of happiness continues to rise, and I am generally very happy as the result. 

I contemplate the difference between joy and happiness

When I look at the word joy, I do not feel that I am in a constant state of joy, but I do have many little things that happen on a day-to-day basis that rise above my state of happiness. They sometimes bring tears to my eyes. We all can identify with the term “tears of joy.” Even unhappy people can have tears of joy occasionally. I was introduced to the principle that “happiness is a byproduct of right living and not an end in itself.” I have been living by that principle ever since and you can believe me when I tell you that I reap more than my share of joy.                                                                                          

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