I recently celebrated my 50th birthday. My husband and I were supposed to be in France, celebrating the occasion on a trip we planned for years.
COVID-19 had other ideas.
Let me reassure you: this is not a sad-sack story about how coronavirus ruined my 50th birthday. Instead, it’s a post about how and why I will choose joy despite my disappointment.
In addition to managing the daily stressors of pandemic living and dealing with fear and uncertainty about the future, many of us are suffering from significant disappointment hangovers. Who among us hasn’t experienced the disruption of reassuring routines, or the sense of loss brought on by cancelled plans, the not wholly satisfying virtual ‘celebrations’ and deferred dreams?
I understand the temptation to just give up on the idea of happiness right now. Life is hard. When simply getting through the day is a challenge, putting effort into feeling joyful might seem both futile and like a waste of precious energy.
The pursuit of joy is never, ever a waste of time.
Finding moments of joy gives us hope and reduces stress. It gives us a sense of greater purpose (especially when we share the joy with others) and well-being. Joy provides an emotional anchor in times of trouble. Pursuing joy is a self care strategy that re-energizes and fortifies us for challenges that lie ahead.
“Finding and protecting joy is worth doing at any time. And it’s especially important when you’re facing challenges at any scale. .Joy is a reminder that you are not defeated in the sanctuary of your own mind.” says psychologist Rick Hanson PhD.
Joy helps you maintain your sense of self.
When you choose joy, you stay in touch with an important part of yourself. What brings you joy is as unique to who you are as your body type and eye color. Pursuing what makes you happy is as important as getting the right amount of sleep and eating the right food. If you feel like you’ve lost your spark and your only goal is to put one foot in front of the other, you need to reduce stress and choose joy, STAT.
Joy needs to be cultivated.
Joyful moments can occur spontaneously but are more likely to occur when encouraged. Sure, a seed can germinate in the crack of a sidewalk, but it’s much more likely to sprout and flourish if given the space and attention it needs.
Make the pursuit of daily joy a priority: Create space for it in your schedule. Keep joyful things readily accessible. Prioritize it as you would any other activity.
Joy is worth the risk.
I’ve made alternative plans for my birthday. Nothing as grand as a traipsing around the south of France, mind you, but lovely plans nonetheless. My plans have certain elements that are likely to bring me joy – planting that seed in fertile ground.
I understand that by making another plan, I’m taking a risk. There’s no guarantee that these plans will pan out because, life (see Exhibit A: cancelled trip to France). I also can’t say for certain that I’ll actually feel joyful while I’m doing these things. We’re not machines. Emotions aren’t entirely predictable, even when prompted.
But no matter what, I know the effort will be worth it. Giving joy a place of importance in my life and tending to it regularly is critical to my sense of happiness and well-being over time. I know from experience that the effort will bear fruit eventually.
Don’t let the idea of joy in your life get snuffed out just because life is hard right now. Life is hard, so now is the time to fiercely protect joy in your life. When choosing joy seems like too much of a stretch, explore its close cousins: curiosity, wonder, peacefulness, amusement, delight.
Joy counteracts weariness and drudgery.
Life can feel like one big pie-eating contest. The reward for being responsible and meeting expectations is often more responsibility and greater expectations. Working hard, pushing through, and showing up no matter what can feel like a never ending slog of perpetual stress with questionable rewards.
Choosing joy is an effective counter-weight to this state of being. Of this I am certain: The most satisfied and fulfilled among us pursue joy with the same doggedness they pursue everything else, especially when the going gets tough.
“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”
– Joseph Campbell
Maybe you’re still on the fence. Maybe you think investing in joy is something you’ll get around to later, once the pandemic is behind us. It’s a fair question: Is pursuing joy in the midst of significant hardship worth it?
Anne Frank thought so. During the holocaust, while spending two years living in cramped quarters trying to avoid the Nazis, she said: “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”
Be determined to find joy in the journey no matter what. What will you do today to nurture joy in your own life?
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