I turned forty-four a few months ago. I am now officially in my mid-forties—a realization which caused me to stop and reflect. In a season when I was making drastic changes and searching for balance, I had set the intention to escape autopilot living. The ultimate goal was to become increasingly present despite life’s inevitable distractions.
The morning after my birthday, I woke up thinking of a brilliant friend and mentor who celebrates aging with a yearly birthday challenge. Essentially, she chooses something that stretches her potential, takes her out of her comfort zone, and exposes her to a new experience or perspective. It’s inspiring. On my first full day of being forty-four, I decided to do just that and knew instinctively what my birthday challenge would be.
I was going to embark on a Year of Joy.
Let's back up for a moment, so I can provide you with some context.
I’ve always thought society’s obsession with happiness was suspect. In a complicated world where human-ing feels tricky, I often wonder how people walk around with such playfulness and laughter. I am, by nature, an introspective overthinker. This quality makes me deeply empathetic, sparks my spirituality, and stokes the thoughtfulness of my writing but also blocks my happiness from time to time. (When one is over-analyzing conversations and choices while simultaneously over-preparing for imaginary worst-case scenarios, joy feels frivolous. Who has time for it?)
In the past, I’ve written about the idea of happiness. I have pondered the happiest people I know and wondered why that emotion is so easy for them and so elusive for me. I once read that smart people are rarely happy because they spend so much time in their minds that they miss out on being fully present. If that’s true, I must be a fucking genius. I have Googled the definition of happiness which defines it as “the state of being happy.” WTF?! The definition of being happy is to be happy? How deeply unsatisfying.
If happiness was on Tinder, I’d probably swipe left. Too fickle.
Joy, though, has a different flavor to it. The definition of joy is “the feeling of great pleasure”.
This makes more sense to me. Joy is about moments. There is no expectation to extend these moments into a lifetime of bliss. It is about being fully present for a few minutes and appreciating the circumstance or sensation. This I can do. So, I set out to learn more about joy.
My investigation led me to a podcast which discussed cultivating awareness and presence by noticing delights in the world.
Listen to that baby giggling. Delightful!
Look at that fluffy Bernese Mountain Dog. Delightful!
Notice the rich colors of the fall leaves. Delightful!
While I wholeheartedly embraced this daily practice, it still felt as if I was observing things which happened to me and around me.
What if I could take it one step further and purposefully create moments of joy in my everyday life? This way, I wasn’t waiting passively, but could actively architect a joyful feeling.
With this intention, I began a Year of Joy.
Each day, I plan a moment or two which makes me smile, in which I feel deeply present, which makes me laugh, or which inspires resounding gratitude.
Because I suspect you might be curious, here are some of the ways I have cultivated joy over the past few months:
Maybe the thought of chasing A Year of Joy doesn’t appeal to you. It may sound precocious or overwhelming. While I respect that, I need to push back, just a little. Even if you have no desire to sign up for an entire year, I encourage you to take one small moment of reflection. Ask yourself when was the last time you felt joy? Does it happen often enough to lift you out of the grind and notice the awesomeness of life?
In whatever way you can, I implore you to cultivate joy. It’s highly underrated.