A few weeks ago in early January, I was having a conversation on twitter with fellow PhD Lisa Munro and others about the importance of practicing joy in 2017. Yes, joy. Yes, now, of all times. Lisa wrote an excellent blog post on this subject, where she discusses establishing joy as part of her New Years intention, and the quiet power of practicing joy “in the middle of such terrible things.”
Here’s a gem from the post about practicing joy – but don’t stop here. Go and read the post for yourself:
“Joy requires being present. Like, really present. There’s no way to find joy while distractedly scrolling through Facebook while reading tabloid headlines in the grocery store and secretly wishing ill on the person in the express lane with 32 items. Joy requires our full attention.
Joy requires great vulnerability. It doesn’t seem possible to be worried about looking cool and experiencing joy at the same time. JOY requires letting go of what we want people to see in favor of experiencing something genuine and being real about it.”
I have also been thinking a lot about joy this year. Like Lisa, I usually choose words instead of specific resolutions to start every new year. And like Lisa, joy was one of my words. However, until reading her post and talking to her about joy as a practice, I hadn’t developed any useful tools to help me focus on this theme for this particular year. After several of us shared our tips in our twitter conversation, I decided I needed to start a gratitude journal. I have been using it every single day since.
Look online and you’ll find lots and lots and LOTS of tips about starting a gratitude journal. It’s seems like every self-help writer and media figure touts some kind of version of it. There are even apps by Oprah and others designed to help you start one. I think that’s why I’ve long resisted the concept of the gratitude journal myself. To quote Lisa in her post I was perhaps a bit “worried about looking cool.” Gratitude Journals sounded a bit like a cheesy Hallmark device designed to exploit and profit off the desire to feel better. Pft, who needs that?
But they need not be, because gratitude journals can take any shape that you want, and you don’t need an “app” you just need a basic notebook. They can be short, long, daily, weekly, or whenever you want. In her post, for example, Lisa talks about keeping a notebook with her to write down moments of joy throughout her day. For me, it seemed more useful to set a notebook by my bed so I could scribble down a whatever bit of sweetness came to my head at the end of the day.
I happened to start the gratitude journal the same day that my city of Portland was graced with a near-record snow storm. It blanketed the city in a gorgeous white quite uncommon for the city, which is usually marked by two colors in the winter: green (grass, moss, trees) and gray. I love displays of nature, so it was easy that first day of the gratitude journal to express my glee.
Not so much a few days later, when that glee turned to annoyance as the weather stayed stubbornly cold, grinding the city to a halt for several days. At that point, the gratitude journal became a tool for tempering the challenges of cabin fever, as I sought ways to create sweetness out of every day my family was stuck at home. And since then, I’ve used it in good days and bad to remind myself that even if there’s sour in the world the world has not itself gone sour. It’s a way to energize me, to remind me of the good.
If you choose to create a gratitude journal for yourself I recommend you keep it specific to the day. I also think it’s far more useful to focus on the joys that have little or nothing to do with materialistic stuff. Things that help give you strength. Things that reaffirm your faith in humanity. Things specific to you.
Maybe one day it’s playing frisbee with your child. Maybe its the buds coming to life on a tree.
Perhaps its a student in your class that “got it” when you explained a new concept. Or a lesson that you really nailed for the class.
Maybe its seeing a friend online stand up for justice for the first time. Maybe its the thousands of bodies marching along side you in a protest.
Joy and Resilience
Last week was a grim week in the US, and one could see, as the days wore on, people feeling down by the weight of it all. There were frustrations about differences among those who protested at the Women’s March. There were calls for faster action, frustrations that more couldn’t be done sooner, residual anger about how we got where we are. Sometimes it seemed like people were wanting to move a mountain and were feeling burned out because they couldn’t do it fast enough. By the end almost everybody I bumped into seemed completely drained.
There’s an old Confucius saying, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones” that’s useful here. It takes time, and it take energy, it takes resilience.
Practicing Joy is useful here. It can keep us energized. Yes, it’s hard, especially now, today, this week, this month, this year. But that’s precisely why we must find moments of joy.
But joy and gratitude also serves an even deeper purpose right now. It’s essential in times like these. Joy helps us remember exactly what we are fighting for. Those moments of joy can keep us going.