2017: Year of Joy

Happy New Year!

Confession: I love the start of a new year. I feel like I’ve just received a new box of sharp pencils that I can’t wait to use.

I don’t, however, make resolutions. I’ve never kept up with resolutions, so I tried making goals instead. When I look back at this post from a year ago, I'm a little embarrassed about my goals. I didn’t make concrete plans to meet them, so I didn’t meet any of them. In my defense, a lot of my priorities have changed. I can’t decide how I feel about my academic writing anymore. Some days I think it’s worth pursuing as an ex-academic and then other days I can’t figure out why I should bother to invest the time and energy in writing articles no one will read. In Facebook parlance, it's complicated.

Rather than set unrealistic goals, I've had better success with intentions. I pick a word around which I focus my energies for the coming year. Last year, I set the intention of nourishing myself. Nourish was a good word and had good outcomes. It turned out to be about physical self-care. I tried to get enough sleep, make exercise a habit, and eat healthy food. In 2015, the word was gratitude. I wrote a lot about gratitude, meditated on it, sent lots of thank you notes, and looked for things in my life to be grateful for. I became more grateful and got healthier.

When I started thinking of a word for this year, the word joy kept coming into my mind. It seemed crazy, but the idea of joy wouldn't leave me. At first, I felt incredulous that I should use 2017 to focus on joy. The past year was, arguably, one of the most difficult years in recent memory.  We lost a slew of artists, musicians, actors, and others who had shaped my childhood. There was the election of a person who I believe fundamentally unfit to be president. Globally, tragedy abounded: Aleppo, terrorist attacks, mass shootings, natural disasters. There were personal challenges, too. I conducted a long and miserable job search. I tried to accept that I was really leaving academia. I faced the reality about my huge (YOOOGE) student loan. I made the difficult decision to come back from Mexico, which I didn’t really want to do.

I told my therapist about setting joy as my intention word for 2017. She thought about that for a minute. “That sounds subversive and risky,” she said, “I like it.” The more I thought about it, the more subversive and risky JOY sounded. Who was I to try to have JOY in the middle of such terrible things?

I’m also adverse to joy because it has eluded me my entire life. I can get kind of happy sometimes, but joy? I always feel like I shouldn’t have it, lest something terrible happen. I’ve struggled my whole life with an undercurrent of sadness under the surface, what nineteenth century writers might have called melancholy. Joy sometimes seems impossible. How can we have joy when we’ve got such broken hearts? How can I have JOY if I have this melancholy nature? Do I even deserve to have JOY? What if I get it and like it and then it goes away again? JOY seems dangerous to have.

So I’m going for it, despite the fact that the idea of JOY kind of terrifies me.

Here are some discoveries that I’ve made about JOY so far:

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.

Joy is quick, like a lightning strike. It’s a brilliant and flash of light that’s gone as quickly as it comes. It’s a narrow flash of light, not an ocean wave. It is possible to experience joy, even in the middle of chaos, turmoil, sadness, and a broken heart. We have to be open to it and allow ourselves to have it, even in moments of sadness

Joy is found more in the small and every day moments rather than in the big events that happen every now and then.

Here are some ways that I’m trying to cultivate joy this year:

  • Getting outside as much as possible
  • Physical activity and recreation
  • Creation (writing, photography)
  • Connection
  • Meditating on allowing joy into my life
  • Recognizing joy when I feel it and assuring my panicked self that it's okay to have

I’ve had a few little moments where I think I’m starting to feel some joy. Often times, I’m outside, with people I love, walking, and taking pictures. Most recently, I spotted two bald eagles hanging out on an icy lake and I thought my heart might burst with wonder. I feel joy when I know I’ve just taken a great photo and I’ve got it on my phone or on my camera; it feels like a tiny prize in my pocket. I feel joy being outside with sunshine on my face. I feel joy creating something new in the world.

I’m trying to do at least a few things a day that bring me joy. I recognize them and give gratitude for those moments.