Monday, September 16, 2013

Cultivating Joy

Warning, personal disclosure ahead! Although I've always found great happiness in specific events -- almost any time spent with my family, watching a favorite television show, reading a good book, etc -- I have never been what you might call a "joyful" person. Throughout my life, I've known some people who exude joy, and I've been in awe of how, even in the most trying circumstances (ones that would make me extremely grouchy, at best), their joy didn't waver. Oh, it may be toned down a bit and appear more like a "calm peace", but the joy was still there.

I could go back and talk about my upbringing -- it wasn't horrible by any means, but ours was not what I would call a "joy-filled" household -- but that would be just an excuse. The time came when I was old enough to see that others were filled with joy and I wasn't, and from that point on, my perspective on life was my responsibility.

Looking back, I can recognize a couple of reasons I did nothing about my more serious outlook. One, for many years I didn't even consider that it was possible to make that type of change. Perhaps I watched too many Popeye cartoons as a child, but if asked, I would probably have simply said, "I am what I am" and left it at that. By the time I realized that a more positive outlook could be learned, I had quite a few years of habit to change. Between that and a busy life of family, kids' activities, work, etc., I simply kept going as I was. Also, I was comfortable as I was. I read once that in order to make a change, a person's current situation must be more troubling/difficult than the process required to change it. I wasn't miserable, by any means, and I found great joy much of the time, so I was content as I was.

Recently, though, I've decided enough is enough! After my husband's death, I struggled for a few years, and when I began emerging from that fog of sadness, I decided I didn't want to just go back to where I had been before. Melodramatic perhaps, but like Scarlett O'Hara, I vowed I was not going to settle for less-than-joyful-living the remainder of my life!

As always when I don't know how to do something, I went to my go-to strategy -- books. I visited a local large bookseller and wandered through the aisles of Christian and self-help books, reading the backs and inside flaps of dust jackets to get a feel for the volumes in those two sections. Because of my personal belief system, I put aside anything that was New Age in philosophy; still yet, I was amazed at the sheer number of books on the topic of joy-filled living. I eventually whittled my list down to a manageable number and then headed to my local library, where I checked out 10 of the 22 books on my list. I also used a Bible concordance to find all the Scriptures that have anything to do with joy or happiness.

I eventually read 17 of the 22 books (my local library is requesting the remaining 5 through inter-library loan), and I read 5 or 6 others that were referenced more than a few times in those 17. I also read every Scripture on the list I had made. I found that while various writers used different terminology and exampes, the basic principles outlined are consistent.

First, having a joyful outlook is learnable. That was both good and bad news. The good news is that there's hope for me and others like me who have over the years developed a more "melancholic" personality (there are 4 basic personality types: sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic, and choleric). The bad news is it isn't easy. The other bad news is that because change is possible, I have no excuse for not becoming the person I want to be. In other words, I knew it was time for me to buckle down, stop journalling about this, and get to work.

Second, there are many strategies. Again, this was both good and bad news. On one hand, that gave me lots of options in case one or a few (or more) strategies didn't appeal to me or didn't work well when applied. On the other hand, I don't do well with options! lol  I like "neat and tidy" and "just tell me what to do and I'll do it" type of directions. Becoming more joy-filled, I learned, was not going to be quite so sequential and cut-and-dried as I had hoped.

I created a master list of strategies that most appealed to me, and I began implementing them about 2 months ago. I have a long way to go, of course (it's not easy to change 50+ years of habit), but I have seen progress already. I'm taking this a day at a time, even an hour at a time. Here are a few of the strategies I've implemented.

1. I'm watching less television. Before I embarked on this journey, I turned the television on as soon as I got home from work or, on weekends, after I finished eating breakfast. I didn't necessarily sit down and watch hours of programs; rather, television kept my company. I realized, though, that it's ever-present voice was a kind of audio clutter. I'm also making a deliberate effort to search for programs that will be uplfting, enlightening, or informative or that will make me laugh.

2. I've begun listening to podcasts on topics that add value to my life. Through a few google searches, I found podcasts on topics I'm interested in such Dave Ramsey's on personal finance and several NPR podcasts. While I'm cleaning house or cooking supper, I now listen to programs that educate me, cause me to think more deeply about issues important to me, or  simply make me laugh.

3. I've begun listening to types of music that I haven't listened to in the past. Through another google search, I happened upon a list of pieces that make up a primer on classical music, and I've made a point of listening to a piece or two when I'm journaling or grading papers. I'm hoping to find a list of must-hear jazz selections and explore other types of music as well.

4. I visit facebook less frequently and, when there, I engage less frequently. Not only has this freed up time for other, more productive activities, but eliminating the various political posts and social justice (for want of better word) posts has eliminated quite a bit of agitation on my part.

I also just finished reading a fantastic book, and I'll share more about that at a later time. I'm enjoying these changes in routine and the gradual changes I'm seeing in myself.

What about you? Would you characterize yourself as "joyful"? What do you do to cultivate joy in your life? 

6 comments:

  1. The things you did is interesting. When I am doing mindless things I can immediately detect a slight depression in myself. I have found that doing things mindfully bring a joy of its own (Like walking and TI swimming)Also being grateful change my out look on life and make me immediately more joyful.

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  2. I love nr 1! I used to watch the news because I thought I had to: one needs to be informed about what's going on in the world. Until I realized I can choose which information I want to consume. And the often negative and depressing information which is presented in the "news" isn't one of them.

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  3. What a great point about being mindful -- I like that word! You're so right, Marie, to mention exercise (walking and swimming, for example). I don't necessarily like to "exercise", but I enjoy being active, so I try to avoid putting "exercise" on my to-do list and to use "build arm strength", for example, instead. Silly, I know, but thinking of it that way works better for me. Thank you for sharing!

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  4. So true about choosing, Daniela, and it doesn't mean sticking your head in the sand and being ignorant of the events that affect you. I agree that what is presented by the media often isn't the real news. A technique someone shared with me privately (he emailed me but gave me permission to share here when the time presented itself) is to watch the news or read the newspaper with a notepad nearby. He said he writes down two lists -- the items to be thankful for (hostages released, missing child found safely) and items that cause distress. Immediately after watching the news or reading the paper, he pauses to thank God for the good and ask Him to release him from worry about the bad. Wonderful idea!

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  5. Thanks for this honest and sensitive post. I think I understand "where you are coming from", and would ask you to consider a slightly different angle.

    There are different types of "joyful living". We see those around us who share their joy and bring light and life to others. But there are also those who quietly experience joy; it's not that they don't share it, but what I believe they do is offer the world a serenity, a listening ear, a safe place. Their inner joy comes to us differently, but is equally important.

    I try to choose a word to live by each year. If I don't think I have succeeded then I use the same word the following year. I think I made personal progress towards finding that state of joyfulness when my word was "Gratitude". With an attitude of gratitude, joy and serenity follow. But this year I am repeating last year's word...Grace. I'm a slow learner, sometimes.

    Wishing you all the very best in your search for a joy filled life, beginning with joy in your heart.

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  6. Thank you for sharing. I completely agree with you re: the various types of joy. I don't know that I would ever be the "outgoing joyful" type :), but I long for that quiet, joyous heart. I also believe it can/will come. :)

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