The days are growing shorter and THAT time of year is almost upon us. Maybe you feel a sense of heaviness or dread and you’re thinking something like – what on earth is she talking about? Joy, what joy, there’s no joy in my life.
I fully appreciate how unusual it is to see the words ‘joy’ and ‘childlessness’ in the same sentence and yet I used them in the title of my book. So I thought I’d explain a bit about what I’ve learned about joy, how it’s different from happiness and show you how to find it. I also talked about this in the webinar I did for MoreToLife (which you can watch here).
What is Joy and how is it different from happiness?
It’s fair to say that you could tie yourself up in knots researching both these subjects on the Internet. Some writers use both words interchangeably, while others state that they’re different. In Finding Joy I write about 6 things I’ve learned about joy, here are 3:
1. Joy is deeper than happiness. It’s a way of being in the world and it’s closely linked to having a gratitude practice
To quote Brother David Steindl-Rast, from his book Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer, ‘Joy is happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.’ As you might guess from the title of his book, he (and other researchers) have found that having a gratitude practice is the bringer of joy into our life. I would also add that (along with grief) joy is one of the hardest emotions to feel.
2. Joy comes to us, not by searching for extraordinary moments, but by celebrating the ordinary moments
Think about it for a moment. What are the most joyful things that have happened to you recently? Were they big things or small moments? Two recent examples for me are sharing the giggles with a close friend and being in the countryside, grass under my feet, blue sky above, and feeling the wind in my face. Both were completely ordinary moments.
3. We want more of both in our lives
Whether you believe happiness and joy are the same or not, I’m sure you’ll agree that you want more of them in your life. So let’s create some. And for ease I’m going to focus on joy.
Three ways to bring more joy into your life
Before you throw your hands up in horror, I do realise that’s a lot easier for me to write than it is for you to do. Perhaps think of this as an opportunity to explore, to discover more about you and what you love to do. Like many voyages of discovery, you may have a few false starts along the way and perhaps your endpoint could be more interesting and (yes) joyful than you ever imagined.
In Finding Joy, I write about 6 ways to generate some joy in your life, here are 3.
1. Do something creative
Being creative is another way to bring more joy into your life and it can also be a challenge to embrace. As children we are extremely creative until the point where either shame or comparison steals our joy. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says that 85% of the men and women she interviewed ‘could recall a school incident from their childhood that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves as learners’. Approximately half of those were what she refers to as ‘creativity scars. They could point to a specific incident where they were told or shown that they weren’t good writers, artists, musicians, dancers or something creative’.
Hmm, I’ve certainly got those. I can’t draw or paint, so I have big art scars and others from cookery lessons where the teacher was terrifying and nothing I produced was ever good enough.
I also used to have a narrow definition of creativity and, because of my lack of art skills I believed I wasn’t creative. A few years ago, I shared this conclusion with a friend and she was aghast. ‘But you have a business, you write, you’re a great cook, you take fabulous photographs. Okay maybe you can’t draw, but that doesn’t mean you’re not creative.’ I reluctantly agreed with her, and so began the scavenger hunt to find my creativity which has brought more joy into my life than I ever thought possible.
So now the question … how could you be creative?
2. Make someone else happy
Think of the last time you did something small for someone else. Maybe you gave a small gift, or a gesture that helped them in some other way. How did you feel in the moment? And remembering it now, you can still feel that glow, can’t you?
Apparently, this is called giver’s glow and was named by Stony Brook University School of Medicine Professor Stephen Post who discovered that even the anticipation of giving releases the feel good neurotransmitter dopamine. This has been known for centuries. St Francis of Assisi included ‘it is by giving that we receive’ in his Prayer, and many of the world’s religions encourage followers to give.
I’ve only recently come across this and it makes complete sense; giving brings a lot of joy to my life.
Smiling at others is another way of making others happy. There are many health benefits to smiling, so why not do it more often? And even better pass a smile on to someone else.
So, now you know what’s coming… what small things could you do to make someone else happy? Maybe even something creative.
3. Look for it.
Now this might seem obvious, and as I see it, it’s a mindset shift in the same way as having a gratitude practice. It’s about consciously noticing those ordinary moments and appreciating the joy in them.
Ok so – how could you be proactive and look for joy?
My Story: A Scavenger Hunt for Joy
I’ve been looking back at what I used to love to do as a child. One of those was hand sewing. I decided to finish a couple of tapestries Mum had started and something strange and wonderful happened; once I started being creative, I couldn’t stop. I started making felt lavender bags and I absolutely love the whole process. In a world where many tasks we do are never ending, sewing gives me a sense of achievement and pleasure that I’m often missing. There may be inconsistencies in my sewing and that’s okay. I get a lot of joy from what I create and in the end, that’s all that matters. Another benefit is that when I’m sewing, it has my complete attention so anything I’m worrying about is put aside for a time.
I’m consciously taking time to stop and pause and look for the joy in everyday small moments. For example, I just took a break from my desk to make a coffee. As I was waiting for the machine I looked out of the window into the garden, I noticed a busy blackbird, the colourful leaves remaining on a tree; I heard the wind chimes which reminded me of our travels and I recalled times we’d sat in the garden with friends. I remembered the shop where I bought my mug and spent a moment really savouring the taste of the coffee. The simple act of making coffee brought many small moments of joy, because I paused. It didn’t take any time out of my day. I was doing what I always do; the difference was my mindset. As a bonus, I came back to my desk refreshed, feeling like I’d had a long break.
Giving to others brings me a lot of joy. Making a difference is one of my core values but that’s not it. I get an incredible amount of joy from small acts of kindness, taking a friend some flowers, sending a helpful email, asking someone how they are (how many people don’t do that?), taking time to say how much I appreciate someone, making someone laugh, or organising to meet friends.
When I think back over the past week, and those times where I’ve given, I do indeed feel that giver’s glow and where I feel it the strongest is not when I’ve spent money, but when I’ve given a few moments of my time, myself, or my love.
Joy is like twinkle lights
Before I started to look for joy there was very little of it in my life, and now having a practice encourages me to search for it. It hasn’t always been easy, there have been times when I’ve considered joy as an act of defiance ie, I WILL not permit sadness to take me over.
But the results have been huge, for me, moments of joy are like twinkle lights, each on its own is small, but when you string many together they light you up.
What about you?
Does this resonate with you, can you see how having a practice of searching for joy could bring more of it into your life?
How can you use the above questions to bring more joy into your life?
You’ll find more on how to find joy in Chapter Thirteen of Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness and if you purchase the book you’ll have access to 10 video interviews with the story tellers and other downloads.