“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” ― Rumi
Watching my dog sniff for bugs in the grass
Sitting at an organized desk
Smelling the heat when I first get into the car on a summer day
I understand the need for a gratitude list or gratitude journal, but I have never been good at keeping one of those. I might not keep a “Joy Journal,” but joy excites me to think about, experience, and write about.
Joy sometimes surprises me in otherwise mundane moments, and I am grateful when I notice. (See there, I do have gratitude.) For me, joy is just this knowing that something is so good, even when it’s so very small and simple. When I came across the Persian poet Rumi’s words, I felt exactly what he described so many years before. Feeling a river moving in me, and that river is joy.
With so many things bringing sadness or worry lately, with being anxious or angry such easy places to find ourselves, it seems looking for joy might be a worthy endeavor. In 2001, B.L. Fredrickson (University of Michigan) conducted a study (Broaden and Build) that showed positive emotions, such as joy, helped make people more resilient. I don’t know about you, but it has felt like between a pandemic, a war across the world that is affecting most of us in some way, and general life issues, I could use some resilience.
It’s true, the selection of food in the pantry or clothes in the closet might bring feelings of frustration, and goodness knows the division between people who have been friend or family can feel anything but joyful, but as I watch the Indigo Buntings, male and female, at my feeder, I feel tremendous joy.
Maybe you could use a refresher on finding joy, too. After all, in a year of focusing on slow, I think it’s a good place to pause and notice all the little things that might bring us joy. Have you ever stomped in a mud puddle and giggled with glee? That, my friend, was joy. Unlike happiness, which is more of a long-term feeling, joy is momentary. But those moments can build into happiness over time.
Recently, I traveled out of state to help with a friend’s wedding. Extended trips away from home usually happen only because someone could use my help, though we’ve had a handful of trips with no real agenda. While the recent trip had an agenda and plenty of work available if I chose to help, it also offered me opportunities to experience simple, yet tremendous, joy.
I’d like to share a few of the joys I discovered.
Fitting in an appointment to see a friend who used to cut my hair when she lived near me, and having her use a shampoo that made my scalp tingle, and a cut that left me feeling refreshed, gave me joy.
Arriving at my friend’s home brought an immediate sense of joy, as did reconnecting with her family and their eight or nine dogs. There was joy as I ate my meal that evening, not because it was delicious, though it was, but because it was prepared so thoughtfully and intentionally kept warm awaiting my arrival. That someone cared about that brought me a big feeling of joy.
Once we reached the property where the wedding weekend would be spent, I felt joy (and excitement) as I chose my yurt in which I would be sleeping for the next few nights. Lying in the yurt, looking through the clear dome into the sky full of stars, I felt so much joy. Even as I laid awake at two in the morning listening to the laughter of the younger campers as they sat by the fire telling stories and singing songs, I felt joy.
It was so nice to hear so many people having fun. And in the early hours of the day, I felt joy as I walked through the village of campers still enjoying their sleep, as I thought about what a great time they must be having getting to be all together. Six hundred or more steps to the composting toilets, I remember feeling a sense of joy that I was there, experiencing the beauty of nature and the love of people.
You get the idea and can see in how many moments I found joy. A person could have chosen to feel negative or annoyed about several things, but choosing joy was too good to pass up for me. The entire week was a week of moments of joy.
Daily life holds the same opportunities to experience joy. Do you feel joy when you smell the privet or honeysuckle, even as you are bathing in sweat from the oppressive heat and humidity? That’s the other side of joy, don’t you think? If we didn’t have the uncomfortable, we probably wouldn’t recognize the joyful moments. I think of how much joy I felt when I gave birth to our children, and I wonder if I would have felt it quite the same had it not been for having had miscarried earlier. If you haven’t had to wear hand-me-downs, I don’t know if you feel the same joy when purchasing your own clothes.
Maybe the drudgery of everyday life will be pain enough to allow you to find joy in making some small changes. Have you ever gotten up to watch the sunrise or stopped what you were doing to watch the sunset? Have you put down your phone, left the computer, and taken your cup of coffee outside in the morning to listen to the sounds?
Even if you live in the city, you might be surprised that the sounds of vehicles could bring you joy — someone is going somewhere, but where? It makes me smile to imagine some stories of where they are heading. For me, it’s the birds and the frogs that bring me joy as I sit outside in the morning with coffee in my favorite cup.
Before you know it, your moments of joy will begin to add together, and you just might discover you are a little bit happier than you were the week before. The research tells us it’s possible. What do you have to lose? I hope you’ll give it a try.
Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at email@example.com.