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It was that liminal space between Christmas and New Year and I was burnt out. Again. Again. This time, I was truly sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, so I promised myself that, by hook or crook, 2023 would end differently. Having read enough self-helpful stuff in the past, I knew that for 2023 to end differently, I needed to do the days differently. That said, I was running on empty and doing anything felt like doing too much.
During Christmas, I’d picked up Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee and it got my cogs whirring. Firstly in that somewhat bitter way where something feels out of reach – envy and jealousy reared their head. Once I clapped the book shut, there was something else whirring away – resolve. I yearned for more joy in all areas of my life and I was going to dare to set it as my 2023 word of the year.
So, I did what any planner would do, I spent an inordinate amount of time snuggled on the sofa reading allllllll the books on my Kindle:
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary by Catherine Gray
The Electricity of Every Living Thing by Katherine May
The Power of Moments by Chip Heath
Then the year began.
And, what a year it’s been!
So much joy
I’m happy to confirm that choosing a word and consciously circling back to it does in fact work! It’s all too easy to choose a word casually, I did that in 2022 with the word ‘ease’. I hasten to add that because I didn’t stay mindful of it, 2022 was full of anything but ease. This time, I was determined to keep travelling in the direction of joy, no matter what. Boy, am I glad I did. Turns out, that tuning into where you want to be or who you want to be and consistently using it as a ‘North Star’ is nothing short of wonderful.
When you have a firm sense of where you want to go in life, it makes decision-making easier. Whilst I only knew that I wanted more joy in my life, that helped me to make decisions faster and spend less time dithering. There was less people-pleasing which, in the short-term, can make things a little more difficult but it’s worth it for the longer-term joy.
As a stubborn so-and-so, I tend to find it difficult to give things up even when they’re not very good for me. I. Just. Keep. Going. That had to change. One of the biggest pivots this year was that I permitted myself to fail fast and change my mind quickly. This led to a year that was all over the place in terms of what I was trying. It also brought such crystal clear clarity about what I enjoyed and what I didn’t, what motivated me and what didn’t, my skills and my weaknesses, and, what was next for me and what truly wasn’t. If an idea piqued my interest, I would give it a go. If it didn’t bring joy or I doubted it ever would, then I allowed myself to put it down without worrying what others would think – I don’t think I’ve ever not worried what others might think, until this year. As it happens, people have a lot going on and care a lot less about what we’re up to than we think they will.
As 2023 comes to a close, I’m certain that my best work is where I’m supporting others, working in micro teams, alongside all the creativity.
Being present is a present
We all know full well how being present can bring with it all the great goods. There are hundreds of thousands of articles about it on the internet. We’re encouraged to meditate, focus on our breath, and really be in the moment. I’ve always thought of myself as a present person but I was telling myself such a lie. My brain would constantly be plotting, planning, and trying not to forget something or another. I also understand how joyous it feels when we spend time with people who are 100% present. You know the ones. Those who are fully there, they’ve shown up wholly. I wanted to be one of those people.
So, I’ve been doing my best. Leaving social media helped tremendously to lessen the noise in my head and to slow me down. With no social media apps, no work apps, no notifications, and no email on my always-set-to-silent phone, there’s just no pull for it. What a mighty habit to break, that was. No dinging or donging to distract me from what I’ve chosen to be doing. No interruptions in the middle of something that matters. Just focus, concentration and presence. My relationships feel stronger for it and that matters because, for me, joy is found in those deep meaningful connections.
One of the best bits about joy is that you can re-live the memories of it over and over and over again. It’s a gift that keeps giving. There’s unexpected joy but there’s also created joy. Creating magical moments to enjoy with others is laden with anticipatory joy and akin to sprinkling magic on life. The easiest way to do it is to take an ordinary daily event and try to make it extraordinary with a little pizazz. Dinner on the beach, toasted teacakes on a Santa plate, curating ‘sing at the top of your lungs’ playlists for otherwise boring car journeys, unexpected gifts on what might be a mundane rainy Tuesday, family sleepovers, painting a room a colour which lights you up, sunset at the beach, a bobby-dazzler of a picnic, and saying yes to kids when they’re expecting a no.
I’ve also learned that when things go awry (they always do and will), I tell myself “You’ll laugh about this one day”. Because I always do laugh at the mishaps after they’ve gone (as long as nobody got hurt, of course!).
Joy is contagious
We love to see joy in action. That’s why so many videos go viral where someone is in their pure joy. It’s inspirational and aspirational. We can’t help but grin and be in the moment with them. Turns out, that’s true of offline life too – it’s called emotional contagion. When you’re in your pure joy, others can’t help but smile and be lifted by it.
Trusting what lights you up
As kids, we’re drawn to what we’re drawn to. We don’t judge it nor mock it. It’s just what it is. As adults, we tend to filter ourselves and talk ourselves out of those pangs of interest, those prickles of excitement, and those sparkles of inspiration. After a year spent actively joy-seeking, I say sod it. Sod it if those things for you are line-dancing, learning to knit, taking cookery lessons, wanting to climb a mountain or run a half marathon, going travelling, finding a new job, writing that book, or whatever it is that lights you up. Because whatever that is for you is for you.
For me, that was/is the endless hours of table tennis that we played after my mum bought me a dining table kit. The extraordinary memories we made. All the things I tried that didn’t go to plan which meant I could tick ’em off my ideas list. The giggles we had as we’d sing so loudly in the car. Catching the train places instead of driving. Taking the duvet in the car to get a drive-through. Trying new recipes and taste-testing them. Beach days. Sunsets. All the crafts. Our matching penguin mugs. Injecting more colour into our house and my wardrobe. Supporting people. Whatsapp voice notes. Getting into a made bed. Propagating plants. Fresh flowers. Baking bread. Looking through old printed photos. Playing board games. Letting Peggy teach me Roblox so we can play together. Listening and learning. Mostly, the joy came in jolts and when they came, I learned to lean hard into them and take notes so that I could intentionally scatter them throughout my days.
Joy when the world feels as though it’s falling apart
At large, it’s been a really difficult year. There’s so much going on that brings sadness, sorrow and fear. I don’t think choosing to make your life as joyful as possible undermines any of that or diminishes any of it. We’re humans, we’re complex, and life is full of duality. We can tap into our empathy and outrage to do good; donate, protest, volunteer, and speak up and out. We must do what we can to help.
It’s not selfish to fill your own cup with all that’s good despite all that’s happening. It can feel it, but it’s not. It’s possible to be grateful and sad. Joyful and motivated to help. It’s when we’re topped up that we’re in a position to make more of a difference, to give more and to help more.
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