When I think about joy, and how it comes to us, the word that comes to mind first is gratitude. But when the days are short and bleak, it can be hard to focus on chasing joy in winter.
One of the things I learned in Sunday school was that ‘in every circumstance we should give thanks’. Blind optimism? Or God seeking praise? No. It is generally the case that when the Bible instructs us to do something, it is not for God’s benefit, but for ours.
Brene Brown (my personal favourite researcher…) says the practice of gratitude is “transformative” and invites joy. She quotes a Jesuit priest as saying, “It’s NOT joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful”.
What is a practice of gratitude?
Beyond feeling grateful, it is deliberately looking for those things in our daily life for which we can be grateful. Different people do this by incorporating different tools:
- Keeping a gratitude journal.
- Writing thank you notes or mentally thanking people.
- Taking a photo every day of something they’re thankful for.
- Seeking something of value in each day or week, and taking time to appreciate it
- Prayer or meditation.
It really isn’t about taking on a bunch of practices though. It’s about our focus and taking the time to stop and notice the good things in life.
Gratitude as my focus
For me, this is about keeping my mind on the abundance that I have, rather than on the things I still “want” or lack. If we focus on what we don’t have, joy easily eludes us. If a practice can help you adjust your focus, it’s worth incorporating. So, chasing joy is about purposeful gratitude; focusing on what we DO have.
Chasing joy also means letting go of fear. It requires some leaning into vulnerability, rather than fearing adversity. All feelings and emotions are essentially an expression of vulnerability. But vulnerability is also the essence of courage.
It isn’t as though we can avoid scarcity or stop bad things from happening by worrying about them. Stuff happens. (But by no means am I saying we should not train for safety or save for a rainy day.) But gratitude is like a rainy day buffer: “The good news is that joy, collected over time, fuels resilience—ensuring we’ll have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen.“ (Brene again)
Other things that help…
- Connections as you undoubtedly know, are deeply important. Family, friends, AND people we support, are great opportunities for gratitude and joy.
When my kids were little, I found a new parents’ group, and the way it rolled itself out into a playgroup was very helpful. We need connections. (This is why we have MOPS!) We’re hard-wired for connection, and ‘parenting’ groups offer us places to share our journey and seek help when we need it, and sometimes they remind us to be grateful too.
My playgroup melted away come pre-school time, but happily, I found the remains of another former New Parents’ group when my firstborn started Preschool. I am grateful to this day that they welcomed me in. It was an activity I could take my kids to and just hang out with people in the same life stage, once a fortnight. The kids played and made friendships that would endure many years. And we discussed the latest challenges in each season of mothering. I still hang out with those mums, though the kids all stopped coming along at different points along the way!
- Getting out and about
In the winter, shopping malls offer free warmth with reasonable change rooms and stroller friendly terrain, plus food halls, etc. It’s a convenient location to meet up with friends- even if you’re just walking a few laps with a little one in a pram.
Go outside. It is surprising how rugging up and pushing yourself out the door to encounter brisk winter weather can be truly refreshing. Getting the blood pumping can help shake off the winter blues.
Keep chasing joy
Winter can be a challenging time. Look for opportunities to be grateful, build and maintain connections with others, and make the effort to get out of the house sometimes. Try to focus on the abundance, and good in your life.
Joy will find you.
Sue Crerar – MOPS Australia Finance Manager