Joyconjurer Episode One: The Fellowship of the Bringing Joy

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Greetings folks! I am amazed at the number of people who have reached out, both to share kind words and to pose their quandaries. Thank you all! I plan to respond to all of you.

As this is our first foray together, I'm want to take us on a deep dive into one missive that deals directly with the idea of joy. I think many of you will find this helpful.

Ready your water-breathing spells, we're wading in to...

LAKE MAILBAG!

A wild letter appears!

So.....how exactly does one conjure joy?

No seriously though. As I get older, I find it increasingly more difficult to summon joy and/or excitement. There's an easy culprit in depression, but I've got a therapist, and while that's definitely a factor from time to time, I don't think it's the whole story.

My wife likes to joke that parenting is "less fun, more joy", and don't get me wrong, there's plenty of joy to be had there, but that almost feels like a cop-out. Loving your kids is the default.

But outside of that evolutionarily well-worn grooves, I'm finding the sources of pure joy few and far between. How do I change that?

--Jonman

Joyconjurer says...

I hear you. So freakin' much.

First, I want to applaud you for going to therapy and managing your depression. That's a huge accomplishment, and one that lots of people don't or can't make. Conjuring joy requires us to be present, mindful, and willing to do the work of growth and change, so it's important to recognize the parts of our lives or our selves that play a part in the struggle to find joy. And yes, there is always more to the story.

Joy is different for different people, so I recommend taking a personal examination of how you define joy. This will require you to look at what historically has brought you joy, and also what currently brings you joy, even if it's fleeting or increasingly difficult to find. I see some clues in your letter; for instance, you pair excitement with joy. That suggests that you look to new experiences as a source of joy. Ask your partner for her perspective. I imagine she has seen you experiencing joy, and she may have noticed moments you do not remember. Our partners often recall things we dismiss, such as a recent belly laugh or other moments of un-self-conscious joy.

Once you have a better grasp of how you experience joy, finding it and then feeling it becomes the synthesis of lot of things working together in tandem. The primary driver is your own perspective on your life; the more at peace and present you feel, the easier it is to notice joy when it comes. Expressing gratitude, living in the moment, recognizing the good in your life are all critical passengers to bring along. But joy doesn't come just because you live your aphorisms. Sometimes, you must abandon systems and behaviors that served you in the past but are no longer conducive to happiness. Here, again, partners and close, trusted friends are invaluable resources.

It is easy to assume that "common" sources of joy, like children, are universal and therefore not special. But if your kids do bring you joy, celebrate the heck out of it! It is special (and not as universal as we might all like to believe). That said, joy found outside your family is just as valid and valuable as joy found within your family. If family aligns with your personal values, however, I caution against leaning too far away from them just to find joy. Rather, talk with your partner and find how and when your family brings you joy that you actually feel (versus intellectually expect to occur) and lean in to those times, even create them on purpose. There is no cop-out here!

Please remember, we all change and evolve as we age. An adult who used to be a party animal teenager might reject the notion that an evening alone with Netflix now manifests joy; after all, doesn't that pale by comparison to the exciting joy of their youth? But the truth is: joy is joy, no matter where we find it. We all change, and we contain multitudes (h/t Whitman). Understanding what affects you, and what used to affect you, will generate new ideas to try. Don't be afraid to abandon something that used to bring joy if it no longer does, and don't be afraid to pick it up again later to see if the joy returns. There is no fail-state in the hunt for joy. Also, don't forget your resources: your partner, your therapist, and this community.

I have one final thought. Life is never going to be a string of unbroken joyful moments. Your pursuit of joy may require a more active effort at this stage of your life than when you were younger; after all, there is now more competition for your time and attention. Ultimately, this can be a good thing! The joyful moments will shine brighter against the stress, overwhelm, pain, mundane struggle, and boredom. The fleeting nature of joy is what makes it meaningful and valuable.

Now, take a pause and breathe... Joy might be closer than you realize, just waiting to be acknowledged. If in the moments you are most present, you still can’t see it, deeper investigation may be warranted.

***

Thank you all for taking a deep dive on joy with me. Please, feel free to share your own perspectives, stories, and thoughts in the comments section. I look forward to reading them.

If you have a question, a quandary, or something gnawing at your brain, you can reach me at [email protected]. Please note that all published letters might be edited for length and/or clarity.

Comments

Excellent response, Harpo. And a great question!

I find that letting myself experience joy in small, mundane things brings me a lot of happiness. We were on a camping trip a couple months ago with some friends and at one point I pointed out a robin that had landed in a tree by us. A friend pauses and says, "Do they not have those where you're from?" To which my partner responded, "No, she just likes birds." I also delight in the small round birds that flock to outdoor restaurants to pick up crumbs and so on. We let kids be enthralled by the world around them, and I think too often we discard these little joys as we age in pursuit of more important or deeper or rarer things. But sometimes you've just gotta smile about the plain old bird out your window.

After my wife and I adopted our kids, I went jarringly from being able to play games with all the free time and capital I could ask for to...not that. It took a while for me to accept that different sources of joy were not inherently lesser sources, and looking to the past for a model of joy conjuration, after a sea-change like new parenthood, was flawed.

Deriving a large portion of your joy from your children is not a cop out. Children belonging to loving, joy-filled homes isn't as universal as it should be. Celebrate that you have them, and celebrate that they have you.

keithjr wrote:

Deriving a large portion of your joy from your children is not a cop out. Children belonging to loving, joy-filled homes isn't as universal as it should be. Celebrate that you have them, and celebrate that they have you.

... and don't ditch your old gaming stuff! My kids just spent two hours tiring themselves out with my XB360 + Kinect running through the Double Fine Kinect Party modes. Hearing my three year old cackle with glee at turning into a fire-breathing dragon on screen was glorious.

Great question, sage advice. I have a 2,5 and 4y old, and their quick succession made for about 2 years of living in 'survival' mode. It wasn't uncommon to come back from work, clean up the inevitable mess once they're in bed, walk the dog and then either go to bed and have some semblance of energy the next day - or play some games and be incredibly tired the next day.

I still have to consciously decide to not do chores when they're still awake whenever possible, and actively spend some time together. There was no other way for some time, but now that the ultra micro management period is over we're trying to make more of an effort towards (sorry) quality time (barf).

Thanks for the reminder.