Finding Joy

I’ve been thinking a lot about joy lately. How hard it is for me to seek it, to feel it. My natural tendency is to put duty and chores first, and go-go-go, until I’m broken.

Women of my generation were socialized to be martyrs. Even if nobody told us that we had to sacrifice ourselves for everyone else, we imbibed it by watching our mothers.

But serving others without tending to your own needs only creates burn-out and resentment. You end up blaming them for your weariness even when you are the one putting yourself last. I know because I’ve done it myself.

I still feel a frisson of nostalgia when I recall the happy child I once was. Joy was long days in our small summer town, me one among a dozen kids busy only with play. Adventure and freedom outdoors and order and safety at home made my world whole.

I was five when I felt the first crack on the surface. Nothing would ever be the same.

I think we all arrive to that moment sooner or later. Perhaps it’s that day when Mom or Dad criticized you harshly — that horrible time when you learned you were not good enough just as you were. Or perhaps it happened when a friend or a classmate first harassed you or bullied you, or when a trusted adult molested you. Or perhaps yet, it was the first time you perceived injustice in the world, and your deep faith in everybody’s essential goodness was shaken.

Our task is to recover the belief that joy is possible, and the faith that we  — with all our flaws and gifts — are enough.

As the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu say:

“Joy is our essential nature, something everyone can realize. We could say that our desire for happiness is, in a way, an attempt to rediscover our original state of mind.” (The Book of Joy)

These two wise men teach that there are three essential elements to finding happiness: Reframing situations positively, being grateful for what we have, and being kind and generous to others.

But I believe we need to start by being kind and generous to ourselves. As Anne Lamott says in her Ted Talk 12 truths I learned from life and writing:

“Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared, and you can’t fix them. But radical self-care is a gift to the world…. Being full of affection for one’s goofy, self-centered, cranky, annoying self, is HOME. It’s where world’s peace begins.”

Be good to yourself. That’s the only way you can be genuinely kind and generous to others. And believe that when you honor your own needs and your own dreams, and you are less exhausted and resentful, you will be easier to love.

How will you find moments of joy today?

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

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