Creating Joy in Our Daily Lives
One of the most overlooked elements of the healing process is Joy. Joy is something that can come spontaneously, but only when we invite it in, when we are open to it. Creating space for joy, taking a moment to breathe it in, to open our eyes and truly see it, is an essential activity in the day. Our lives tend to be overrun with required things and living on a schedule, having to integrate others’ needs into our daily lives can take a hidden toll on our sense of self. Loss of our relationship with ourselves and our own needs is the driving force behind stress and its devastating effect on our health and our emotional life.
Activity can be a healthy thing, but avoiding or ignoring our need for joy in lieu of simply meeting our obligations or accomplishing things, is simply setting us up for illness. We think of activity as actively doing something, whether it’s working, paying bills, running errands, handling ridiculous issues over the phone, transporting our kids around the universe, caring for our elderly parents or maintaining our daily exercise routine. That induces us to see our need for joy as extraneous, something we can put off until we have “time”. What we need to realize is that creating joy is also an activity, in fact an activity that can open doors, create change and even fix a relationship. It’s a wheel that when it finally gets going can bring back the feeling of wind in our hair and carefree times.
The first step to that is to recognize what it feels like and see it when it appears.
The First Step: The Activity of Joy
Choose a time in your day when you have the best chance of being alone, quiet and undisturbed. Even if this has to be done in the bathroom, in the car sitting in a parking lot somewhere, in the back yard, anyplace. Do not take your phone or have your phone on.
Now imagine something that you know for a fact in the past has made you feel happy. Really imagine it to the point where you actually smile. Now breathe in very deeply and exhale. Bask in this image for a few minutes while breathing normally, but calmly.
THIS is what you are looking for. This is not to be confused with a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, drive, ambition or fulfillment. These are all tied to “activity”. This is simply a doorway to serenity, as Marie Kondo would say, “spark joy!”. You are not to ask yourself what is the goal. This is just to experience.
The Second Step: Make a Space for Joy
This is a much more important step and will take time and practice. Now don’t confuse practice with discipline, nor with schedule. Practice is simply about repetition to allow the brain to accept the new “option” and to make aspects of it subconscious. Each day choose at least one of the following things to do, but you must do one of these each day. See what fits into your day best. Do this for at least two wee
1. Walk slowly – do not canter through your day. Walk slowly, even from your car to the door, from the living room to the kitchen, from your desk to the cafeteria. Walk at half the pace you would normally walk. Be casual in your walking, not purposeful. Striding is right our the window!
2. Speaking of windows, at least once each day, stare out a window. Spend a minute or two and notice what you see. Take things in, don’t just zone out, instead zone in.
3. Stop talking. Instead, listen. Deliberately listen to one person in your day, whether it’s your spouse, partner, child, friend, coworker or even a stranger in the store. Listen to what they are saying. Don’t think about yourself, what you want to say or any goal that you have in the conversation. Instead shut up and listen.
4. Go outside. This needs to be for at least 30 minutes and preferably in nature. Clasp your hands behind your back and walk slowly. You will notice that with your hands in this position you will walk more slowly and your back will be straighter. At first you may only be able to do this for a few minutes, but as you do this your shoulders will pull back a bit, your posture will improve and your breathing will be enhanced. But whether you keep your hands like this or not, you must remain outside for 30 minutes. Do not take your phone, your pet or any electronic device (including an IWatch) with you.
5. Deliberately choose something to watch carefully. This is not to be done on a screen of any kind, this is to be live and in person. Watch a car, watch a person, watch wind in a tree, watch birds.
6. Spend at least 15 minutes in silence. No sound, no distraction, no people, no activity. Just sit and be silent. Breathe it in. Stop thinking so much.
7. When someone asks you how you are, don’t just say “fine” or be flippant. Instead pause for a moment and say “I’m actually doing well!” even if you don’t necessarily feel as though you are. Just say it … but only after the pause.
The Third Step: Recognizing and Enjoying Joy
Once you have dialed down your life with the seven suggestions in step two, then you have made space for joy. Now remember what step one felt like … that is what you are looking for. Now when you are doing any of the options in step two, ban negative thoughts while you are doing these. Instead allow and I mean really ALLOW yourself to not worry, to not dwell on all the things that have to get done, to not think about what comes next or what you haven’t done or how fat you are or how awful work is or how much stress you have.
Instead think of your image of joy and then look around you and open yourself up to recognizing it in other things. For instance, you may be driving and you notice the most glorious sky imaginable and in that moment, just in that moment, you feel pure joy.
Perhaps you are at the grocery store and you happen to stop and notice the flowers instead of racing through with your shopping list. You notice one flower in particular that just makes you happy. Buy it and take it home. Put it somewhere you look at all the time.
You see mushrooms growing in your yard. Instead of thinking how it ruins your lawn, go over and pet the mushrooms. Believe me, petting surfaces is a very under-appreciated activity! Feel how smooth they are. Pick one and look at the underside of it. I know this all sounds very touchy-feely at the moment, but when you actually do it, especially if no one is looking, it’s really joyful!
The more you recognize these little, slightly quirky things that bring you joy, the more moments of joy you will discover. This is the key!
The Fourth Step: Acknowledging the Change
Many of us see our days as just the flip of a calendar without any real change. But once you start experiencing these moments and periods of time with joy, things will begin to change dramatically. I know it’s hard to believe because you think that a result has to be logically linked to the actions you take, but these actions that you have taken actually produce some surprising results. The recognition and encouragement of joy actually change the way the pathways in the brain function. It promotes the use and growth of new and different pathways, which then allow for new and different neurological effects.
This means that emotions and mood can change, decisions can change, your view of your world can change, even your relationships can change. But most importantly you suddenly can see different possibilities. It’s as though you were standing in one room and so your entire view is of that room, but now you have walked into another room and you suddenly realize that there are more windows, more doors, that the room you were in is not “all there is”. This makes change possible. Change is what healing from illness is all about. You have to believe that things can be different, that you can be different, that your life can be different, that your future can be different.
I promise you, if you simply stop and smell the roses, difficulties will lessen and even disappear altogether. It has been told to me that our life is like a web of connections and relationships with people, things, places and activities. We cannot control anything else in the web, but if we change our position, change something about our view, our energy or our feelings, then other things in the web change automatically because of the connection. If we move our end, the other end has to move in response.
My grandfather would say that if you’ve caught your foot in brambles, don’t keep trying to pull it free or simply hack the brambles to bits. Instead, sit down, take a breath and slowly disentangle yourself. You won’t have as many cuts and your clothing won’t be torn to shreds.