Five (Fairly Simple) Ways to Stay Connected to Joy in Troubled Times
Previously published through www.3HO.org
We could all use a little more joy these days, which doesn’t mean ignoring the suffering around us. We need joy because it transmutes suffering, if only for a moment. Part of the difficulty in claiming joy might be wrapped up in truly understanding what joy really is. For it isn’t the same thing as happiness. Even thinking about these two words, takes us to different places inside. Happiness may bring up a memory of laughter, a fun experience, or a deeply satisfying period in life where, for the most part, we were truly happy. But what is joy?
As a psychotherapist and yoga teacher, I have the privilege of observing what can happen when someone works through a personal block and discovers the ability to experience relationships at a whole new level. I often feel like saying in those moments, “Feel that? That’s you accessing your personal joy.” For Joy can never be measured by how many people follow us, or acknowledge us, or claim us as friend, family, or lover. Joy is far more intimate than that and stems from the connection that happens when we experience someone or something as exquisitely important, and beautiful beyond measure. Joy is activated when our spirit delights in response to another’s spirit; whether found in nature or humanity, in the form of a stranger or our nearest and dearest friend.
Joy is my daughter gathering milkweed pods at age six, and squealing with delight as she blew the tufts of downy-white seeds onto the wind, sending “wishes” in behalf of her classmates, up to the angels. Joy is my friend Kimberly waking at 4:00 am to make maple scones for her community bakery; scones she won’t eat, but that give her pleasure because “I get to feed someone”. Joy is sharing who we most deeply are, and discovering in the process what it’s like to find ourselves and lose ourselves all in an instant. Perhaps more than any other emotion, even grief, joy binds us to each other.
I often hear the negative thoughts and reactions that come from living in such trauma-filled times as we are in now. These difficult feelings are important to navigate, because they teach us how to be with ourselves in response to upheaval. They teach us where our own story of trauma and heartache meets the heartache we read about almost daily. But how do we keep from despair? How do we keep our light strong in the darkness, and continue to move forward on our own healing path?
Since joy is about connection, it offers a way for the law of attraction (ie: like attracts like) to do its best work. Joy happens when our inner flame grows a bit bigger because we are meeting and experiencing a like-flame that mirrors it, whether in the form of a person or a captivating scene from nature. Joy offers a return to the places within us that are free of fear…and we could all use a bit more of that.
Here are five simple ways to cultivate joy, and none require too much time or forethought. In fact, some of the purest experiences of joy happen spontaneously, in moments when we least expect it. These are just a few tips to widen the doorway, so that joy can be ushered in:
- Schedule a Self-Date. We all know that putting away our devices is important, but what we do instead is becoming less clear. Making a date to be with ourselves, device-free, can be uncomfortable at first, until it is utterly necessary. Start with a quiet read, a walk, a bath, a new recipe to explore, or just sitting and breathing, looking out the window at the world. Joy begins when we can connect more deeply with the only constant in life, ourselves.
- Notice the Mirrors. They are the people who really see us. Notice them and try to see them back. They often cross our path in unexpected forms, like: the check-out counter cashier; the student teacher at a child’s school; or an acquaintance we’ve never taken the time to know but who is always really glad to see us. These mirrors are the small reminders of who we are to the world.
- Get Creative. Creativity is unequivocally good for us. Making space for it, even 10 minutes, helps awaken our spirit by taking us out of our heads and into the present moment. All that is required is a willingness to show up (and perhaps a paper and pencil).
- Find the Wild places. They are everywhere, even in the cities. All we have to do is pay attention. We can notice what draws us in; what we stop to look at for longer than an instant. Is it the small clutch of berries layered with the first glaze of winter ice, or the flock of pigeons marching like frantic soldiers across the city pavement? We can let the experience of that little piece of nature usher in the wild part of us that recognizes it as uniquely beautiful. That’s joy.
- Be of Service. With service, we humble ourselves to focus only on giving. And humility is a pure pathway to joy. We need only think of the people we know who are truly selfless. Joy emanates from these folks like sunlight on water. Being of service to our friends and family, strangers in need, or a charity organization, keeps us connected to something larger than ourselves, introduces hope, and allows us to feel like we are making a difference. Because indeed we are.
Amy Carpenter is a psychotherapist, yoga instructor and writer (Amycarpenter.net). She has two completed books, Glen Stone, a middle-grade novel, and Channel Crossing: The Challenge and Success of Solo Parenting, a self-help book which earned her the 2018 Ilgenfritz scholarship award through the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. Amy has contributed articles to PsychCentral.com, the Asana International Yoga Journal, and her own blog, Singlehandedly.me, where she is managing partner. Her writing passion is broad, and includes such subjects as: human connection, mindfulness and accessing personal joy.