Celebrating Joy

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Joy is to fun, as the deep sea is to a puddle.

It’s a feeling inside, that can hardly be contained.

                                                            Terry Pratchett

To live a life of joy is to live a bold life.

Looking at challenge through the lens of adventure, seeing beauty in dark places, delighting in the smile of an infant, being in awe of a sunrise – this is an aliveness that many of us call joy.  Joy, like love and hope, doesn’t lend itself to being defined. Happiness, bliss, rapture, wonder, thrill, and delight are common synonyms. Joy does have a spark, a moment when time seems to stop. A moment when our whole body smiles. You might think of joy as an unexpected flash of gratitude.

 

Does joy affect our health?

Dr. Cynthia Thaik reported in HuffPost in 2014, “When you are joyful, your whole body benefits, especially your heart and mind. In fact, research shows that joyful people have less chance of having a heart attack, healthier blood pressure, lower cholesterol, weight management, and decreased stress levels.”

Joy triggers

Each of us is unique in what triggers the joy response. The challenge is to be open to joy regardless of what we are feeling, to pause for a moment to notice that special feeling.

  • Karen, a recent widow was walking on a golf course, out of season in a drizzling rain. The sky was grey. There were no golfers. The landscape was luscious green and quiet. Coming over a gentle hill, there they were – a doe and a fawn. The doe was cautious. The fawn curious. Karen knelt slowly and spoke gently. The fawn drew nearer. She wrote of that moment:

When the fawn pounced

across the carpet of green,

the feeling came

with an inner smile.

I remembered

for the first time in a long time,

the feeling of joy.

 

  • Bonnie struggled each day as she neared six year old Ryan’s room on the second floor of the cancer centre. Often, she paused to collect herself before entering to ensure that her fear didn’t seep into her son’s awareness. As she entered, Ryan wore a smile of delight, indeed of joy, on his face. His little bald head was of no concern to him. On his bedside table, lay the picture format children’s menu he had just filled out. He announced with grand enthusiasm, “Tomorrow we get fruit loops.” In that moment, Bonnie made a decision. She too would look for joy each day.

 

  • Ella, 91, made a difficult choice. It was time to move into assisted living. The move coincided with the COVID lock down. Here she was, only days into her new environment and now on virtual house arrest in her new 500 square foot  living space. Her meals were delivered to her room. It would be months before she would be allowed even a designated visitor. Yet, when her former and younger colleague would call, Ella would greet her with “It’s wonderful to hear from you.” The joy in her voice was palpable.

 

What blocks joy?

Experiencing even a few minutes of joy each day can be a challenge in this time of unprecedented chaos in our lives. What often brings us joy may be less available because of COVID 19, or joy may have slipped behind a veil of stressors that are taxing us. It is present though, if only in flashes, and only for moments.

Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be filled with joy. Joy requires us to pause, to insulate ourselves from the pain, physical or emotional if only for moments. Feelings of anger, resentment, fear or sadness can act as a wall through which we cannot see or touch joy.

During extra stressful times, our efforts to experience joy need to be more intentional. What wall inhibits you from experiencing joy – or of being bold in the face of adversity? What feeling might you need to confront in order to experience more joy in your life?

 

Openness to joy is a choice

There are those who have cultivated joy over their lives and seem to have a wellspring of it in reserve, who are not battered by the prevailing winds of chaos, who can unearth the specialness even in difficult moments.

Are you one of those people? Do you have one or more of those people in your life?

To be open to your joy requires a pause, a moment or more when the world falls away. In our world of busyness, we likely miss moments of joy that are readily available to us. Joy doesn’t take time out of our lives. It takes only a moment to delight in freshly squeezed orange juice, to smile back at a stranger, to watch the blue jays and squirrels bicker over the peanuts as winter sets in, to treasure a moment of sacredness, to literally smell a rose. Are you allowing yourself to pause for moments of joy? Remember joy is a gift that often takes us by surprise.

Openness to joy can include more than receiving an unexpected gift in your day. It could include kindling a moment of joy in the life of someone else.  Sending an unexpected card. Your long awaited voice on the phone call to a friend. A basket of fresh muffins left on a neighbor’s doorstep. Paying it forward at Tim Horton’s. Surprising someone else with an unanticipated kindness will bring you both joy. You will see it in their eyes. You will feel it in your heart.

 

  1. Suggested Reading
  • Canadian author, Pierre Burton truly loved to write. Most of his books were best sellers. He titled his reflection on a fifty year award winning writing career The Joy of Writing. Looking for inspiration; enjoy his witty and practical guide.
  1. Evidence
  • Why joy matters more than ever is a straightforward short article on the benefits of joy.
  • Joshua Brown and Joel Wong. (2007). How gratitude changes your brain. Greater Good Magazine: Science-based insights for a meaningful life. Brown and Wong looked at joy through the lens of gratitude. Their study demonstrates the influence of writing about gratitude.
  • Science is one form of evidence. Testimony is another. Listen to Henry Rollins attest to The joy of Writing. He attests to the fact that writing itself brings him joy and to the fact that it is there for anyone should they choose.
  1. Writing strategy of the month

Lists may seem so ordinary, so mundane. Yet, writing lists can be enormously helpful in giving our lives direction, identifying targets of gratitude and recovering memories.

This month’s theme is “joy”. This month’s writing strategy is “writing lists”. As you experiment with one of more of the lists below, notice the interaction between the theme and the list. As you write lists about joy, past, present or future, notice how you body responds? Notice how you feel if you take a moment with each item on the list. “Enjoy” your reflections on joy.

Answer any or all of the questions using lists.

What five moments of joy come to mind quickly?

What would bring you joy to write about?

What do you imagine would bring you joy that you have not yet experienced?

What photographs or images do you think capture joy?

To whom might you bring joy to today how might you do it?

What task would bring you joy today if you reframed it as a privilege, shifting from “I have to” to “I get to”?

If you were in charge of developing a “joy menu” for people in quarantine because of COVID, what would be on the menu for them to order?

If you really enjoy “lists” you might want to experiment with a journal that specifically uses “lists”. This is a link to 52 Lists for Happiness: A Weekly Journaling Inspiration for Positivity, Balance, and Joy by Moorea Seal.

We invite you to share your lists with us. We are in the process of web development that will allow readers to share with each other.

  1. Photo question of the month—optional— Use the list strategy to explore the joy in this photo. Or, use previous months strategies of story, or the pyramid strategy.

 

 

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