The word “joy” has come to my attention several times recently, including what I’m currently reading, “The Book of Joy” about Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Coincidentally, several people have asked if I’ve seen the Netflix program “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Over the weekend, I watched two episodes, and clearly Kondo is to tidying what Martha Stewart is to entertaining: all business with the highest standards. Her method of tidying includes holding an item and asking, “Does this bring me joy?” If the answer is shy of an enthusiastic “yes,” the item is tossed or donated. The process is not for sissies. I tried it. I now have no jeans or kitchen utensils, so I am feeling joyful about ordering take-out from one of my three bathrobes that are joyful.

Last week a client said to me, “My therapist said I need to go have fun.” I stopped in my tracks and looked into her eyes with that knowing connection. “Yes. Me too.” I appreciate any shedding of the façade of being perfectly balanced and happy. It still takes courage talk about that. We do need to have fun. For most of us, that’s harder in the winter and this one has been a doozy.

Finding joy is vital. Honestly, some of it can be found cleaning out the house. Too much stuff becomes clutter. Looking around me, I see I need to reclaim a pair of pants so I can take out the paper recycling. When we’re not bogged down by stuff, there’s less to manage, sort, clean, fold, store, etc. This creates more time and energy to do the things we want.

One couple with young kids was profiled in a Kondo episode. They expressed how clutter created an undercurrent of stress and frustration that eroded quality family time. Too much stuff is a drag on several levels and resentment mounts.

Taking time for what really brings you happiness means you will be far less tempted to grab for false impersonators of joy. Recently, two sisters came to me for help with fitness and weight management. They both carry extra weight and eating out regularly is their primary source of entertainment. Food is a decoy joy. Shifting that is essential to the lifestyle change required for anything better than temporary weight loss.

If you’re unsure whether something is genuine or decoy joy, check in with how you feel after the experience. Do you feel fulfilled, energized, and loving or do you feel guilty, fatigued or frustrated? Real joy makes you want to give joy. Joy is not found in a product advertised at the Superbowl, even if it has no corn syrup. I’ll bet you a dollar that joy can be found in hobbies you love, whether it’s a sport, music or art. Joy is also spending time with the people we love. Joy often is outside.

When there’s genuine joy in your life, there’s energy in your heart for the things you might not love doing, but you do them because it’s the right thing to do - like getting your exercise and making the slightly harder choices of healthy eating. There can be joy in a favorite indulgence, but only if it’s a savored treat, not a default behavior haphazardly accessed from being too tired or stressed.

Take time to distinguish genuine sources of joy from superficial impersonators. Find ways to infuse weekly doses of joyful fun into your life. Taking care of yourself with joy makes it easier to take care of yourself with the harder things in life.

Make time for joy in your life. Have fun. Fill your spirit. We are not meant to crawl across the desert. Be honest about what brings you joy, and may the list be lengthy. See you out there.

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