A friend of mine recently asked how I find time, energy, and motivation to do the things I do, and I tend to receive wonderful feedback about how the ways I choose to spend my time are inspirational or motivating. This always makes me blush a lot, and while I am flattered, very basically these are just the things that bring ME joy. I think the bigger takaway (and really the purpose of this blog) is that anyone can find the same kind of happiness, energy, and motivation, just by being honest with themselves about what brings them joy.
When she contacted me, the phrasing she used I think speaks volumes to the traditional way people manage their time and priorities. “I spend so much time [cooking, cleaning, making time for family, etc.] that everything else feels like extra work“. Therein lies the problem. Nothing I do in my life feels like work. Even my job, while stressful sometimes, seldom feels like work. The activities and people I choose to include in my life add to it, and I value every bit of it.
What works for me is simple: I do things I like, I don’t do things I don’t like, and I am honest about the difference. Using this simple rule allows me to hone in on what matters, and dedicate my time in those directions. Granted there may be things I do not like about life in general, but typically they are things I know I need to do in order to obtain the things that bring me joy. For example, I don’t like paying my mortgage, but every time I do I feel pride that I have my own home, and a mortgage it isn’t forever. There are other things, of course, that we can’t control (illness being one of them, for example), but this article is more about the things we can control, and there are a LOT more of those than the alternative.
When you look at life in this way, your life becomes more about what you want to do, and less about what you have to do. Below, I will explore the process of planning for joy, and seeking it out in a method that works for me.
Prepping for Joy
Get Emotionally Intelligent
If you remember back to that psych 101 class in High School or College, emotional intelligence is basically your ability to recognize emotions and label them appropriately. I would extend this definition to include the ability to understand where said emotions are coming from. Mastery of this piece is critical to being able to figure out what really brings you joy, and that is the first step in being able to conquer anything you set your mind to.
I remember when I was in the throws of teenage angst, and I would have days where my hair wasn’t right, or my clothes didn’t feel right, or I was allover just off (who am I kidding, I still have those days). Anyway, my mom used to sit me down and remind me about the changes happening in my body and brain, and I would find some sort of solace in the fact that it wasn’t the hair, it was the hormones. Even now, while I don’t feel anymore comfortable certain days, it is a constant reminder that the feelings we have and emotions we experience are not always superficially evident.
In order to find out what is really going on at any given minute, whether feeling high with joy or totally depressed/frustrated/anxious, it is valuable to take a few moments to mentally note what about the situation is making the feelings emerge. While I could probably draft a dissertation on identifying negative feelings and where they come from, I want to focus on the positive ones, since we are talking about honing joy, and I don’t think people spend enough time really focusing on what makes them happy.
Get real with yourself, before starting anything new
Guess what? I’m not always happy! It’s true. Even now, I still have days when I feel off, or frustrated. I don’t always feel positivity radiating off the cuff, and that is normal. Anytime you start a new project, relationship, or other such noble endeavor, know that it won’t be sunshine and rainbows all the time. The important thing to remember is to identify what is causing the slump, and get back up. (See emotional intelligence, above 🙂 )
For example, I NEED projects, and I need a creative outlet. The rest of my psyche goes haywire when I can’t let that creativity go. I get bored and cranky! Waiting for the house to be finished is absolutely killing me, because there is so much I want to do once I am in. Identifying that, though, is more than half the battle back to normalcy.
Being honest with yourself is also critical for the search for joy in your relationships with others, so being able to be honest enough with yourself about what drives your emotions is critical.
Planning for Joy
Declutter your life
Marie Kondo wrote an awesome book (series of books really) on the magic of tidiness, but truly her method works for finding joy in your life, too. Start thinking about the things in your life (from clutter to relationships and obligations), and being relentlessly honest with yourself, decide what needs to go. By de-cluttering the aspects of your life that do not bring joy, you can focus on, and better appreciate, the things that do.
While this is not necessarily a post about decluttering your material life, it is definitely a place I would recommend starting. By starting with small, mundane things, like your clothing or the basement full of crap, you will begin to understand how the joy sparking process works on a small scale.
If you don’t have time to read Marie’s book, the take away-s are this:
- Focus on one subject at a time, and in its entirety. This way, you can see the true volume of the clothes, paperwork, obligations, etc. that you are currently making yourself deal with.
- Take each piece (she’s into physically holding the object or thinking on the obligation) and go with your gut reaction. Does it make you feel stressed? Happy? It sounds nuts, but it does work. Toss logic aside, there is no room for practicality (i.e. “I might fit into these jeans one day”, or “my sister gave me this as a gift even though I can’t stand it”) Gifts, she says, are about the moment the gift is given, and not about the object.
- Let it go…let it all go. I am not one to throw things away, so I prefer to donate to local organizations that support the causes I am for. Whether it is a material object, or a relationship or obligation, freeing up that object, person, or slot on a team is the least selfish thing you can do. She likes to think about hanging onto things that do not truly spark joy as a bit selfish, because they could be providing joy somewhere else.
I am a learner by nature, so I tend to try new things all the time. Sometimes I try things I like, and other times I try things that I really don’t. If you don’t have hobbies, or interests, it’s a good idea to get out and try a bunch of things (safely!) to see what turns you on. You might find that you enjoy things that are challenging, or that you hate challenge. You might learn what comes naturally for you.
Most importantly, when you start getting into new things, you begin developing not only a sense of joy, but an individual sense of who you are and what matters to you. After “decluttering” the rest of your life, you will find you have time for new interests, and inevitably end up meeting like-minded people and folks with similar interests.
When you first start really thinking about what makes you tick, you might be surprised. The most important thing to remember is that joy is an individual as we are human. There is no right or wrong answer, and the quest for joy is extremely personal. Try not to involve other people.
Also, leading a joy-filled life is more of a lifestyle in itself. Certainly it is a mentality that is easier to maintain once you understand how to properly assess your life and the people/things in it, but do not be discouraged if something that once brought joy no longer does. Be honest with yourself (and the object/person/obligation), and release to the universe as necessary (as Marie would likely say).