This year, when the New Year rolled around, I made a decision to send the message above to those nearest and dearest to me, to my friends, my colleagues and those travelling the road with me. Why? At this particular moment in our history, in our generation of humanity, is it not a bit tone deaf to speak about “Choosing Joy”? A little trite? Flippant even? Is there not a hint of superiority in this message? Given the immeasurable anxiety, suffering, fear, disquiet and concern that many (if not all) of us are feeling, is it not a bit insensitive to speak about joy?
I have to admit that I really grappled with this myself. Who am I, from a position of such profound privilege, where the images in this picture are real, accessible and experiential to me, to send out an edict to others to “Choose Joy”? Well, I guess that I chose to do so because I don’t believe that joy is a function of privilege, status, wealth, intellect, physical prowess or wellbeing, or any of the other things that we so frequently conflate with being necessary for happiness. I believe, heart, soul and mind, that joy is a choice we make. We can make it in the best and the most awful of our experiences. Joy is a choice, and it can be consciously enacted and enabled. Spoiler alert here: Despair is a choice too. The difference between joy and despair lies in the 6 inches between your ears (and a little upward of that too, in your frontal lobes). This awareness of our choice of lens, and the impact that it has on our experience of the world, is by no means new – and yet it is still not rooted within our collective conscience or common practice.
We are poignantly reminded by Viktor Frankl and Edith Eger that it is possible to find joy in even the most horrific of circumstances – that joy is not found in the absence of suffering, but in the presence of gratitude, choice and will.
Joy is not dependent upon physical pleasure, happiness, sufficiency, success or accolades, though each if these, if we so choose, may be portals into joy. Joy, I believe, is not a function of the body or the brain, it is a function of the soul – that which connects us to the ineffable, to meaning, value and purpose beyond the limitations of our own understanding. Joy is available to us all – and it is able to flood in the moment that we release our hold on being the centre of everything.
Joy is a habit of conscious choice – and the more we practice that choice, the more routine it becomes, the closer we come to hardwiring it into our being. Numerous recent research studies have confirmed what many philosophers have spoken of, long before this age – that joy is accessed best through gratitude. The daily practice of gratitude, of being present to our lives and the beauty around us, flings open the doorway to joy.
Here are some of the simplest, most accessible, easiest ways to open yourself to gratitude and joy:
- Take your shoes off. Find a patch of grass. Stand with your feet touching the earth. Become aware of what that feels like. If you can – lie down and let your whole body sense the earth beneath you.
- Colour in.
- Phone a friend, family member, colleague who you haven’t connected with for some time and just say “Hi, how are you?”
- Be generous.
- Listen to your favourite piece of music – allow yourself to be completely absorbed in it.
- Close your eyes and focus fully, completely and with love on your breath – on the sensation of your body being nourished by the air.
- The list goes on and on…. The doorways to joy are many, and are freely available to us all. It is the decision and commitment to opening those doors that lies within the realm of choice.
A little corollary to the above:
On the long and slightly hazardous journey back from Cape Town to Johannesburg, we listened to KFm 94.5 on the radio. In a strange (and yet obvious) moment of synchronicity, the presenter was talking about her experience of the New Year. Just as I was pondering the appropriateness of sending out a message of “Choose Joy” to my community, she was bemoaning the fact that, in contrast to previous years when she had received dozens of good wishes for the New Year, this year she had received only two. She also acknowledged that she had not sent out any, commenting that this was because the year ahead felt uncertain and bleak, and that it was unrealistic and felt insensitive to wish people well in the circumstances. Caller after caller phoned in to confirm her experience. This made me think – do we only wish people well and share kind words with each other when we have reasonable certainty that things will go well? Surely our interest in and care for others isn’t a matter of “hedging our bets”? We are deeply social beings – and connecting is built into our DNA. When is it that we most need to connect? If not in times of sorrow, fear and uncertainty, then when? Human beings are made for connection – it is one of the greatest joy activators – and if we are battling to make the choice for joy because we are subsumed by anxiety, is this not the time that we most need a lifeline of connection to offer us a route back into joy?
So – if you too have held back from connecting with family, friends and colleagues to wish them well for the year ahead, because you aren’t sure if the year ahead is likely to be good, do so now… Make the conscious choice to create circles of strength and holding spaces for joy. Be courageous rather than certain. Choose joy.
“Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we feel… When we feel joy, it is a place of incredible vulnerability – it’s beauty and fragility and deep gratitude and impermanence all wrapped up in one experience.
…What is the one thing that people who can fully lean into joy have in common?
Gratitude. They practice gratitude. It’s not an ‘attitude of gratitude’ – it’s an actual practice. Embodying and practicing gratitude changes everything.”
Bréne Brown, Dare to Lead
A few books to activate joy:
- The Book of Joy – The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams
- The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
- Braving the Wilderness and Dare to Lead – Bréne Brown
- The Choice – Edith Eger
And a little lighter 😊
- Expecting Adam – Martha Beck
- The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George
Any suggestions from you?