In Pursuit of Joy

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” ~ Karl Barth

What do you do for yourself that brings you joy? Not your husband. Not your kids. Not your boss. Not your friends. What do you do for YOU?  Not too long ago, I couldn’t list one thing that I did purely for myself that brought me joy.          

Sure, I was happy enough.  But, in the busyness of striving to be a partner at a law firm and the Insta-perfect mom, I had lost my joy. 

So, in a typically Type-A way, I went about FINDING JOY.

And, the funny thing is, I now find joy all-around. I find joy in my morning cup of coffee, in the pinky-purples of a beautiful sunrise, in dancing at the Basement with my girlfriends, and even in writing this blog post. I used to think of JOY as those mountain top moments where it feels like you are on top of the world. But, now I know it is a mindset of delighting in the world and my unique place in it. 

How did I get from no joy to abundant joy?

I systematically worked at it - the same way that I worked to bring in a new client, worked to raise money for my favorite non-profit, or worked to get my son seen by that world-renowned specialist. I started by making a list of activities that brought me joy in the past: Pilates, roller blading, reading fiction, dancing, skiing, and community service. Then, I started experimenting with incorporating these activities into my life. Some of the experiments worked and became part of my daily life – reading fiction - and some of them literally fell flat – rollerblading. 

Simultaneously, I devoured podcasts, articles, and books on how to develop a more joyful outlook and these are the four keys I’ve discovered:   

·       Acceptance.  When I feel ticked off, it is sometimes because I didn't get something that I thought I deserved. A perfect example is traffic.  I used to commute 7 miles every day and it often took 45+ minutes. I was constantly TICKED OFF that it took so long to go so short a distance. I paid a premium to live close to the office and thought I deserved a short commute. If I had accepted that it would always take me 45+ minutes to get home, I would have been delighted when it only took me 40 minutes. 

·       Gratitude.  When I feel resentful, it is often because someone hasn’t treated me with respect or has let me down. When that happens, I bring my focus back to what I have. I have a loving family and a strong circle of friends. Genuine gratitude comes from a feeling of contentment, safety, and belonging in your life – what Buddha called the “gladdened heart.” Luckily, I can’t be thankful and resentful at the same time! As Aurelius said: “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”  

·       Presence. When I feel dissatisfied, it is often because I am striving for some sort of impossible ideal in the future. How much would I love getting a million-dollar book deal or going on a Viking River Cruise?!  However, lasting joy is not found in the mountaintop moments. Mountain top moments are those fleeting periods of euphoria when the world seems perfect. Joy is found in being fully present in the everyday experiences - feeling the sun on my face as I finish a grueling run, laughing until my sides hurt with my friends, or picking flowers on the way home from the bus stop with my kids. 

·       Celebration.  I punctuate my life with quiet celebrations (most commonly of red wine and dark chocolate) at home. We celebrate the little things - good report cards, new accomplished goals, new friendships, and personal triumphs - over family dinner. My husband and I witness and celebrate each other's small accomplishments - when I signed my first client, when he made time for exercise - adding a great deal of joy to my daily life. Any celebration, big or small, is really about taking a beat to notice the good stuff in your life. It can also be a reminder of our talents and abilities, skills and persistence.

I have realized that Annie Dillard was right when she said, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing" with our lives. No matter how small, sowing joyful seeds and attitudes into my days is how I built a more joyful life.

Remember, anything or anyone who doesn’t LIGHT YOU UP is too small for you. Cheers to finding magic in the every day!!

xoxo, SNW

Sarah-Nell Walsh

Wayfinders, LLC

Career Coach & Strategist