Years ago, if someone had told me to “chase joy”, I would have laughed at them. And it would not have been a joyful laugh. Here I was, a new-ish mum in my mid 40s. Because of infertility issues, I could not have more children after my one miracle baby and I missed having a family. I had no tertiary qualification. My paid job was unstimulating. I regretted lost opportunities that I saw no hope of retrieving. There were difficulties in my social environment that were emotionally destructive. I would describe my overall mood as one of despair. Me, chase joy?! I was pretty sure there was no joy in my life at all, and furthermore, I saw no prospect for joy in the future either. And so I decided to examine my life to see if it was true.
Seeking out joy
I decided to start a journal in which I would write about my experiences of joy each day- my “joy book”. I knew it was possible I might find some joy, but mostly I felt it would justify and confirm how miserable and hopeless my state of being was.
At first, I wasn’t sure if there would be anything to write, but I was determined that every night I would search for examples of joy from each day. On the first evening, I searched through the rubble of my day and I found that there had been joy. I wrote it down. I remember being surprised at finding joy so soon.
The next day I also found joy. Some days I knew joy two and three times, and more. I knew that my life had not actually changed though. Rather, now I was taking the time to notice and document the joy, whereas before I had just let it pass me by. I had let the everyday joy become hidden and blocked out by my negative emotions.
“Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary”
– Brene` Brown
The benefits of noticing joy
I wrote in my Joy Book for six weeks. There was joy every day. Every. Single. Day. This was not what I had expected. After six weeks I did not need to write any more. The knowledge that my life was actually littered with joy had the effect of lifting my spirits. I felt a lot happier within myself and with my life. Noticing the joy had become a habit; I began to notice the joy as it happened during the day. I did not need to wait for the ‘set time’ to mentally search the day for it each evening.
In the months and years since then, if I ever felt the feelings of despair return, I would go back and browse my joy book. This quickly reminded me that my life was never without joy, even though sometimes I had felt joyless. I have learned that it was my feelings deceiving me.
Some words of encouragement
Now, 20 years on, I have a degree, and my job is challenging and fulfilling . My social environment is a place of nurture – a blessing to me and my family. I can see the reasons why one child was best for me, and I am grateful to God for the actual life that I have.
So, to anyone in a dark place, let me encourage you to chase joy. Chasing joy is not just a nice idea – it is very practical. Chasing joy will nurture your inner self; just as denying joy will starve it. I cannot tell you what your life will become, but I will share what I discovered:
- Where you are now is not forever.
- ‘Now’ is not the definition of the rest of your life.
- Life changes. You can make it change.
- This time will pass. Hardships become memories.
- And, as I discovered, … God is always good.
Sometimes it’s good to know and remember these things.