Finding Joy When There Is None
My 2020 in one word: Relentless.
As much as I want to list off my grievances to justify some empathetic head-nodding and “wowww girl,” I’ll just trust that you can imagine. Because for most of us, this year has simply been too much. Can I get an amen? As if life doesn’t have enough built-in curve balls, there was a global pandemic, a fire-raging Mother Nature, protests, righteous civil unrest, and family-fracturing politics, all casually thrown into the mix.
Needless to say, my husband and I, having just lost our baby after years of trying and IVF, decided to jump in an RV with our best friend (who was nursing a broken heart right alongside us for a completely different reason) to travel across the country, seeking healthy, outdoor adventures, as opposed to turning to less-than-healthy coping options. Kidding. Kind of.
"This year has simply been too much. Can I get an amen?"
And what I’ve learned recently is that our country doesn’t have a secular grief ritual or loss practice, or crutches for broken hearts, or steps for finding our faith when it’s absconded along with our hope, passion, and purpose. We understand intellectually the concept of resilience, “getting back up when you’ve been knocked down.” We quote Rocky, make a quick Brave Heart or Gladiator clap, and then we expect people to get back on the horse.
And I mean in, like, days:
“You lost your friend in a car accident? Feel free to take Friday off.”
“You found out your husband was cheating on you? Brutal, you’ll totally find someone better.”
“Your dream job didn’t pan out, but anyone would be lucky to have you.”
We have these cheesy, impersonal, non-vulnerable statements intended to glaze over each other’s pain, like if we sat there for too long, if we really let them open up, then their contagious pain may jump into our nervous system and we’d have to actually, OMG, feeeeeel it and sit in it with them. And it might even snuggle right up to our own ignored pain and suddenly, we find ourselves in a pain party, where we are feeling all the feels we try so hard to ignore and don’t know where the exit is … yikes. No wonder people don’t like talking about real emotion.
Bottomest of Bottoms
Now why is it that so often our most painful, heart-wrenching challenges are the wrapping paper to our greatest life lessons? I know, it feels cruel. Why can’t our teachers wake us gently from our cozy bed instead of the violent earthquake alarm clocks of life’s invitation to level up? I don’t know. While I certainly don’t have an answer to that and promise to report back from the other side, in the meantime, I’d like to share my non-contagious vulnerability and say this: I hit the bottomest of the bottom of my bottom. My heart was shattered into a trillion pieces and I had very real moments of wondering if I could ever see the proverbial silver lining and I myself as the keeper of the silver-lining paint. I had moments where I couldn’t sleep or speak or walk or function, so much so that I swear, there is a finite amount of tears and I had officially run out of tear fluid — all the facial expressions, frog in the throat, but all out of eye liquid.
So in order to save my life, I did something I had never done. I chose to hunt joy. It feels cheesy as I type those two words. But sometimes in dire circumstances, our ego throws our predilection to “cool” and we are forced to wear the Tevas because they are incredibly functional shoes even though they are simultaneously mortifying. And in that moment of giving literally not a single care, I found a strategy that has profoundly changed my life. I told myself I was responsible for three things: breathing, falling into the arms of my tribe, and following the bread crumbs of joy. That was all.
So unlike happiness, an ever-elusive, ethereal, and inherently fleeting emotion often triggered by external circumstances (a.k.a. cupcakes), I found the source of our human resilience in the small things — the getting still and listening to our own heartbeat, surrounding ourselves with our favorite humans who can help love us back to life, and having the courage to focus on the iridescent lightning-bug rebellious flashes, especially when it feels like their precious little lives could be eaten up by the all-consuming darkness surrounding them.
I forced myself to find one thing a day: a stranger’s smile, an unexpectedly good gas station cookie, a star-filled night, replaying a favorite movie, a song from my glory days that reminded me of a great high school make-out, finding the most delicious apple cider I’ve ever tasted, hiking in the winding halls of Zion National Park, meeting strangers who quickly became friends, unexpected bursts of laughter, texts from my best friend reminding me that “I can do hard things,” the way my body perfectly fits into the nooks and crannies of my husband’s when we sleep … clearly I could go on. But here is what surprised me: I started with wanting to find ONE thing a day, and with that new focus, it quickly became two and then three, four … until the majority of my days were spent present to the previously overlooked, arguably insignificant, and arguably the most ordinarily magnificent parts of my life.
I learned that given the chance to hunt joy, it quickly becomes brilliant, neon-bright-splatter paint specks sprinkled over every area in my life. It doesn’t magically take the pain away; it’s not the panacea to our heartbreak, but it does provide fireworks in the darkness, bright reminders that while life is hard, it is also wondrous. Time heals most wounds, and while I may have enough of that under my belt to now walk without wincing, I have also been profoundly and unequivocally changed. I take deeper breaths more often. I see more beauty, more similarities than differences, and more synchronicities. I’m more grateful for my tribe and find it an honor to show up for them in their dizzying moments.
I’m now a professional joy hunter and I see her everywhere I look — for our joy is our internal GPS guiding us back home, the endless fuel to our passion’s tank, and the heartbeat to the unique purpose buried deep within our chest. So in short, be on the lookout for sparkles of your joy as she takes you on the greatest adventure of your life.
CircleAround is partnering with IATG (I Am That Girl) in a series of live book-club panels with IATG founder, author and activist Alexis Jones. The book club will cover the topics of female empowerment, finding confidence as a woman, and speaking your truth, grounded in the lessons from the inspirational book, I Am That Girl, by Alexis Jones.