The last few years have been difficult for me.
My dad died unexpectedly, and my husband was diagnosed with cancer a year later, at age 34. He would die. My aunt would get sick. My mom’s memory loss would degrade into what can no longer be denied as anything other than Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, my sweet child has turned into a raging teen, my blood pressure has spiked and I often find myself feeling like a failure on all fronts.
And yet, I found myself sitting at the table on Christmas morning and smiling to myself. The house was a mess and the kids were loud but there was still peace. Still joy. I had lost it for a while, and I’m still stumbling in the dark.
However, even in the blackness, there is the hope of light.
It’s there for you too.
Maybe the last few years have been rough for you too. Maybe you’ve lost your spouse to death or divorce. Maybe the job isn’t going as expected, or the kids are giving you fits. Maybe you are entering your retirement years, and they seem to stretch long and lonely in front of you, for whatever reason.
In these times, I think we need to forget about being happy. Instead, we need to focus on finding joy. While happiness is a fleeting emotion, joy is something deep inside that can’t be taken away, no matter how dire our circumstances.
Joy is what lets people who are terminally ill continue to smile. It’s what leads people with almost nothing to give away what little they have. It transcends the events of our days and provides an anchor. While happiness can be snuffed out by a fender bender or a nasty word from a friend, joy is the abiding belief that everything will turn out as it should.
That all sounds good, but what you really want to know is how to find that joy, right? After all, we can’t simply throw a switch on our emotions.
In my experience, joy is something that takes time to cultivate, and here are four ways I have found to make it a part of my life.
Embrace spiritual traditions: Prayer, meditation and other practices can be centering and provide the inner peace needed for joy to grow. Some people also find it helpful to identify a spiritual mentor – someone either living or dead to emulate during difficult times.
Focus on the moment: It’s hard for joy to blossom if it is crowded out by worry. Certainly it’s easier said than done, but focus on what you are doing right now and let tomorrow take care of itself once it comes. A practical strategy to achieve that is to stop multi-tasking and avoid stress-inducing activities – such as checking work emails – unless you are able to fully devote yourself to addressing them immediately.
Count your blessings: Gratitude is the fertilizer for joy. Life may seem bad, but there is always good to be found, even if that good is only that the day is finally over. Every night, write down or recite in your head three positive things that have happened since morning.
Accept and let go: We spend a lot of time stressing about things out of our control. No amount of worry will bring my husband back or restore my mom’s memory. So why do I let those thoughts rule my life? Well, I know. It’s because of grief and anger and despair. However, I have started telling myself that there is nothing I can about it and that’s ok. It’s a mantra that’s allowing me to let go and move forward. You should try it too.
If you think joy isn’t for you, then you’re wrong. You may not be happy, but joy is for everyone. No matter how deep the darkness is that surrounds you, look inside to find the light that will sustain you until the sun shines again.
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