A couple of months ago, my friend Misha asked me to write a guest post on J.O.Y.
So it’s been in the forefront of my mind, each day, since then. Looking for it. Feeling it.
And since then, life has happened. Some little pleasures. Some little sadness’s. Some big delights and thrills. And some deep sorrows and heartache too. And, in between, all the beige when life is just ordinary.
I used to think that joy would pour into, or out of, me (not sure how that works) like British water taps (faucets).
ALL. Or, NONE.
Hot and scalding joy on the left.
Or FREEZING to the point of numbing whatever body part was unfortunate enough to be under the spout, from the negative emotions out of the tap on the right.
But in my life’s journey, joy isn’t usually that all-encompassing. Like mixed taps in the rest of the world, I find joy usually blends in with whatever else is going on, across a whole range of my emotions.
And although the Brits are probably right that separate taps are character building, I don’t find it particularly pleasant. And, I’d much rather my life, and its impact on others, lean towards the pleasant!
When Misha asked me to write on joy, all sorts of examples jumped into my mind, immediately. Most of them small, everyday delights. Much of mine felt through my senses, as though sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, are receptors of joy. There’s a physical component, whether it’s savoring a glass of wine on a Friday afternoon on my patio, sensing the Divine as I watch the sun set in a cacophony of orange and red, making love on a lazy Saturday morning, catching sight of my kids sleeping peacefully in the twilight, or the rush of seeing my ‘sent’ folder ping with the deliverable I just completed. My senses help me realize when joy is happening.
I think joy can quickly turn from the warm glow of pleasure as you visit with a friend, to all-encompassing ecstasy, when that visit turns into laughing from so deep within, for so hard and so long, that someone ends up wetting themselves. And then you laugh even harder as your joy somehow expands even a little more (especially if it’s not you that did the wetting. That might have the opposite effect.) And finally there’s tears streaming down your cheeks and no room for much of any emotion, but blissful joy. (Of course the memory might have a touch of embarrassment too. For their sake.)
But, even when it’s a milestone JOY, like delivering your first speech as a Vice President, the emotions can be mixed. After all, we really are complicated creatures. What if the technology failed on you? Or your boss, or spouse, didn’t make it? But, I venture a guess that your overarching feeling on that day, and the memories afterwards, are painted with big, wide, brush strokes of joy, with only smaller strokes of irritation or sadness.
The opposite extreme is true too. I’ve sat with friends whose precious six-month-old has died. And with friends whose parents are gone, much, much, too soon. The sadness is almost unbearable. And the grief palpable. But, there is still a trace of joy. From sharing sweet memories. From silly pictures. From simply showing up–being together and helping to shoulder the pain. From the shared love.
I guess what I’m saying is, there is room for joy in the mundane, to extreme pain. Joy can be found each day. In the routine. In the grey. Our job is to look for it. Acknowledge it.
But I also think that for both faucets to operate together, you have to allow it. No, even stronger, you have to WILL it.
For some unknown reason, which I find sad, we humans see the pain quite easily. That faucets seems to always work well. All the time.
But, in the extreme moments of pain, I have to make a choice that the event doesn’t, and won’t, define me. That I am more than the event of my suffering. Sometimes good days are hard to come by, and I have to look for the joy.
I am not the victim of abuse. I am not the spouse who was cheated on. I am not the mother of boy who was hit by a women who had been drinking, and forever changed the trajectory of his life. And the list could go on, of events that have happened in my past. Not one of which defines me. And honestly, none of which I carry with me. I have chosen to turn on my joy-faucet.
The same is true in the everyday, where joy is not obvious. Where sometimes it is harder to remember to turn on the joy-faucet. When I’m heads-down, lost in Excel-induced torture, and under the gun for a deadline, there is joy in my accomplishment and expertise. Joy in the logic and organization of each formula I finally get right (believe me, I celebrate each one). Or how about when it’s grey and rainy, with nothing but organizing and cleaning on the day’s agenda? I find joy in the completed accomplishments as I check of my to-do list, but I also revel in my health and physical abilities while decimating spider-webs in those hard to reach places. And then I celebrate the day is done with a glass of robust, red, wine. That tickles my tongue.
Happiness and joy are not inherently found in my job. No corporation or boss is going to give me joy. Even if it’s the company I founded. Joy is found, or rather, made, by who I am. By my passions. This has been a new revelation for me. I thought this year of travel and experiences we’ve just completed would translate into THE job. The dream job. The one that would help to change the world.
And I’ve had to re-evaluate why I work, and how to find joy in what I do. Because I’m not doing my dream job (and one day, hopefully soon, when I am that fortunate, it won’t bring me joy either). So, I look for joy in things that bring me fulfillment–like the joy I give others when I fix what was driving them crazy. When I create process where there was chaos. I find joy in the skills that I use. In the quality of my work. In the expertise I share. And of course, in seeing the paycheck hit my account.
Many of us intuitively look for, and experience, joy. For others, it is a learned experience. I think joy can be a favorite viewpoint, a way of life, a habit that becomes a discipline.
Because you know what, joy builds a foundation for me to be strong. For me to have hope. For me to dream big. For me to love well.
Here are some steps I follow, to awaken my life, and turn my joy-faucet on full-force:
- Know myself. Stick to it. Don’t let someone else’s behavior (or poor choice) make me feel inept or get lost in self-doubt.
- Make a conscious choice about what matters to me, things or experiences, without apologizing for it. And then spend my time and money there. And find others with the same values.
- Be honest. Life is hard. It’s not all rainbows. Admit how I’m feeling. Both positive and negative. Don’t live in denial. Personal and professional transformation happens when I look inside and ask the hard questions and face up to what I’m feeling.
- Be a friend. To myself. To my Dreamboat. To my friends. Not just when there’s drama. When things are ‘normal’/beige/boring. Have a conversation with someone who really knows me, when there is NOTHING to catch up on. That’s when I get to the good stuff. When we have to share from the heart. Or sit in silence. Either way. Be. Together. Just show up.
- Be brave. Trust my heart. Change the atmosphere around me by stepping out. Bravery is contagious.
- Be vulnerable. (Read anything by Brene Brown on joy and vulnerability.)
So I challenge myself, and each of you, to turn on the joy-faucet and make it a habit, to infuse our lives’ paintings with joy. And therefore not make others’ interactions with us, an opportunity to build their character