Have you ever encountered someone who seems endlessly happy? Who finds joy, not just happiness in every aspect of their life? I know a few and I strive to be like them. I often think to myself, how do you choose joy? Seems like a valid question and honestly finding an answer has put me on a long journey. I don't have a definitive answer, nor can I point you to a guidebook for help. However, I will share the knowledge I've gained over the years and add that I'm still figuring it all out.
For me, choosing joy can happen in two ways, proactively and reactively. So what do I mean by that? Let me explain... I can proactively choose joy by making choices/decisions that reflect my desire to stay thankful and cognizant of my blessings; to focus on what is eternal instead of circumstantial. Or I can reactively choose joy once I've already ended up in that dark place where stress, frustration and anger lives.
Over the last ten years I have learned a lot about myself. I started to figure out what it is that I want out of my life. I thought I knew all those years ago. But what started out as a young woman on a journey determined to make her mark (career wise) on the world, morphed into a larger more soul seeking endeavor. In my first year post-grad I was hungry to get ahead in my work environment. I volunteered for every fundraiser, stayed late at the office, found myself itching to get facetime with people in leadership positions. I said yes to everything. I wasn't married and loved the independence I was developing. However, deep down I was struggling to figure out what I really wanted. I struggled with maintaining a healthy work/life balance. I started to question if I was turning into a career obsessed maniac. I tossed and turned each night unsure of what my true purpose was. I was surrounded by people, friends and family who thrived in the workplace. Who dedicated their lives to their careers and held the positions they earned in high regard. I thought I wanted that. I tried to get there but always seemed to hold back. I wasn't really happy. Sure, I liked my job, but I wasn't being fulfilled in a joyful, meaningful way.
I have bounced around a few times since then and am happy to say I finally found a good balance. I honestly believe that I got here by choosing joy, by maintaining a realistic attitude of what I could get done. I continued to say yes, but only to things I really wanted to do, with people I really wanted to do those things with. I also started saying no to the things that brought me no joy whatsoever. I gave my husband and close friends and family my undivided attention and it worked. And while my plan, my focus, and my attention didn't eliminate the hard moments, it did make it easier to choose joy when they happened.
Here is what I learned about proactively choosing joy:
1. Quiet time is so important. As a Catholic, spending time in prayer is an important part of how I start my day. Don't get me wrong, prayer is not some sort of magical pill that somehow makes everything better. However, I do find that it helps me put my focus where it belongs, on things that truly matter. Doing so allows me to forget about the things that are bothering me (work related, family related, etc.) and instead choose joy.
2. Make every day special. When I purposefully look for ways to make each day special, I tend to be more patient, loving, and kind. I'm not necessarily talking about preparing a fancy brunch or day trip to the beach. I'm thinking more along the lines of baking a batch of cupcakes or greeting my co-workers with a cheerful "Good Morning." My commitment to 2017 is to celebrate the every day. This is a great way to keep my focus on celebrating life rather than just surviving each day.
3. Play music. I adore Pandora. I like to play classical music in the car or songs that provide for easy listening. I start and end my day with music. It makes for a nice backdrop which also helps me stay calm, happy and more focused.
4. Embrace the chaos. Friends of ours whom we teach Pre Cana with always use the phrase "embrace the chaos." Brant and I both figured it was because they have four girls, more cats than is legally allowed in the township of Summit (their joke not mine) and a rotation of dogs that the family fosters. But seriously, after getting to know this couple, we quickly realized what they meant by "embracing the chaos." For one it meant relaxing my own standards and letting go of other people's expectations. For example, having a clean house is important to me, as the state of our home does affect my mood, patience, etc. Having the pillows from the couch strewn across the floor, the counters covered with miscellaneous objects, and the bedroom scattered with laundry makes me feel like the whole house is out of control, even when it is not. Taking 15 minutes to tackle these areas and clear the clutter allows me to establish a better field of vision. Ultimately I am able to maintain a better perspective as I go about the rest of my day.
5. Find time to exercise. I know for many this can be really hard. But getting exercise, even a little bit, is a huge mood booster. Starting your day/ending your day with exercise also boosts your metabolism and gives you energy. I am a member of the Pure Barre Studio in Princeton and I swear by the instant effect it has on my mood. I always walk out of class feeling refreshed and content. Going to barre brings me peace of mind and allows me to leave my worries at the door. The plus side to belonging to a studio like Pure Barre is having a tribe of women that support you and add to your overall happiness. If you don't have time to join a studio/gym, try the 7-minute workout. I have the app on my phone and it is a great way to fit in a good workout on a busy day!
6. Expect the best, prepare for the worst. I have been let down on many occasions. Sometimes by friends and other times by family. This would almost always put me in a sad mood. However, over the years I have figured out that there is something to be said for our experiences matching our expectations. If we think something will be miserable, it probably will be. On the other hand, putting unreasonable or inflexible expectations on other people or situations will just lead to disappointment. So I've learned to expect the best but prepare for the worst in order to help me find a good balance.
7. Count your blessings. Although I am not perfect, I think I am pretty good at keeping even the smallest of blessings in mind. I am so thankful for this crazy beautiful life-- for my wonderful parents whose love knows no bounds, for a husband who often knows me better than I know myself, for friends who accept my neurotic tendencies without judgement, for this little slice of heaven where we get to live, for my rambunctious, spunky goldendoodle Lucy, and so on and so forth. When you count your blessings every day, it's a lot easier to choose joy!
8. Get enough sleep. Believe it or not, a good nights rest is critical to both your physical and mental health. Waking up in the morning is easier and your energy is likely to last a lot longer. You will most certainly feel more focused and alert. Sleeping well means more to our overall well-being than simply avoiding being irritable. A lack of sleep can contribute to depression and a good night’s sleep can really help a person decrease their anxiety. I have found you most certainly get more emotional stability with good sleep.
9. Relationships are key, they fulfill your most important need of all. I have learned that more important than money, achievement, recognition, and title, is love. We all need to love and be loved. Unfortunately, sometimes we can become obsessive with trivial things that we forget that love is a gift. Don’t let this happen to you. Love others and be loved. I've learned that you do that by maintaining REAL relationships. Make time for the people who matter to you. The singular most effective way to leave a lasting impact on others is by building relationships with them. When we face difficult times, we need other people to support us. No one can take care of everything by him/herself. When the world looks dark and the problem looks big, nothing is more valuable than the support of people we love. Having someone to accompany us in times of trouble, someone who is willing to share the burden with you, makes the journey much easier. When it's time for me to leave this Earth, I imagine I won't be thinking about my achievements and awards. I expect that all of those things become meaningless when we are face-to-face with death. All I will want is to have the people I love around me. To feel the warmth of their love to comfort me in my last moments. Nothing else will matter. I hope you will not wait until that moment comes. I hope you will embrace that little nugget of wisdom today and live out those relationships to the very fullest. This will most certainly bring you unbridled joy.
10. Keep your circumstances in perspective, remember, this too shall pass. Choose joy in the midst of trial and pain. Compared to what so many other people are facing, I have a good life, and I never want to lose sight of that. I will leave you with these parting words of a famous hymn...
"When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot. Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul."
-Horatio Gates Spafford
What about you? Will you choose joy?