At the start of this year, I decided to go on a “joy quest.”
Too often, we rush from one mental worry to the next and don’t take the time to notice, experience, and create the joy that’s either already there or that can be added to our daily lives. The joy and opportunities for joy are there, like jewels strewn over the ground, yet we rarely pause to pick them up.
What if, instead, we made a conscious effort to notice the big and little things that bring joy and meaning to our lives? We can create joy and meaning in our lives in small ways, in moments of connection, beauty, reflection, and service. We can also create longer-term joy and meaning through things that we accomplish that bring meaning. I recruited a close friend to go joy-questing with me in early January, and it has enriched our experience of the last few months immensely. Here’s what we have done.
1. Notice the joy that’s already there. My 6-year-old son takes great pride in making my coffee every morning. He is proud of being allowed to work the Keurig machine on his own. He picks out a K-cup, carefully avoiding the cinnamon-flavored ones and then even gets out the heavy whipping cream and pours — usually too much of it — into the mug. As soon as he hears me wake up, he runs down to make the coffee and bring it up to me. One morning, I realized that I had just grown to accept this coffee-making routine. I typically thank him, get out of bed and begin running through all the lists in my head of things I have to do. I realized I had been missing the opportunity to notice how joyful it is that my littlest child makes my coffee every morning. It clearly brings him joy and delight, and when I stopped to notice it, it brought me joy, setting my day off on the right track.
2. Experience the joy intentionally. Beyond just noticing the moments of joy, consider how you could savor them, make them last and draw them out throughout your day. Collect them up like pearls on a necklace that you create. Consider what the experience of joy feels like in the moment. To me, it feels like a lightness, freedom, a fullness, as if nothing else could be added to make the moment more perfect. It feels like warmth, stillness, contentment, hope and meaning — like there is a radiance about the moment.
Notice, experience, and describe the sensation to yourself. By being more mindful of the moments of joy, you amplify the experience of them. Just as by dwelling and burrowing deep into anxiety or worry, you amplify the experience of those emotions. The 17th-century French philosopher, Montaigne, said: “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune, most of which never happened.” Instead of filling our mental bandwidth with the worries and anxiety about misfortunes that will likely never happen or that, if they do happen, we can cope with, what if we could say: “My life has been filled with moments of joy, most of which I could easily have missed.”
3. Create more joy. There is lots of joy to be had that is already out there in our lives. But what if you could intentionally manage your thoughts to create more joy. Today, I had to work on a “difficult” project. It was a PowerPoint presentation on a topic I wasn’t very excited about, so I felt apathetic. I had to create slides about a topic I didn’t know much about, so I felt self-doubt that I wouldn’t be able to do a good job. The slides were also supposed to have been done by someone else, but I ended up having to make them, so I felt frustration and resentment. All those feelings led me to want to procrastinate and seek out “easier” work or mindless entertainment instead. I paused to reflect.
Rather than follow that path down procrastination lane to the road of regret, I asked how I could create joy in the task. At first, my mind rebelled: There is, most certainly, no joy to be had in this project, it said. So, I asked why I was even doing it in the first place. I connected the project to my bigger mission, values and identity. And I realized I wanted to do a good job with it, because it is important to me to be a person of discipline who creates high-quality work. I also decided I could create joy in learning about the aspects that would be new to me, rather than wasting time feeling intimidated by them. I asked how I might use my creativity as much as possible in the project to make it more fun. How could I gamify it for myself by setting mini-goals and knocking them out every 10-15 minutes, rather than waiting until the final project was done to cross it off my list. Using an intentional mental model, I was able to tackle the PowerPoint design head-on, take pride in my work, and even find moments of fulfillment and (gasp!) joy.
In the longer term, as you start to become aware of where you are able to create and notice joy more, consider how you could do more of the things that bring you joy and meaning and less of the things that don’t. Consider what things bring short-term, immediate joy and what things create meaning for your life over the course of months or years. If you have the flexibility, try to add more of the things that bring meaning and prune away the things that don’t, creating a schedule in line with your values.
Wait! I thought this was a blog about productivity and time management. Yes, it is, and when you are thinking thoughts that create positive emotions, you work better, avoid procrastination, and can improve your productivity. Even the Harvard Business Review agrees that reflection can enhance productivity, and you should do more of it even if you hate doing it.
I encourage you to join me on the joy quest. Take a moment before you mentally rush off to your next task or to-do list item, and notice something that has brought you joy today. Finally, share it! My friend and I regularly text each other to ask where the other has found joy that day. You can multiply joy by sharing it with someone else.
Christina Shenvi is an emergency physician and can be reached on Twitter @clshenvi.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com