Ode to Joy

  • Early this morning my son, Zachary Robert Wonders Dearing, asked me:

    “What one thing will you do today to bring yourself joy, mom?”

    My son knows my heart is heavy with worry for our world.  The war in Ukraine is breaking my heart.  The people’s fierce and undaunted bravery juxtaposed along side their country’s suffering and ruin.  I pray. I truly can’t imagine how these people are putting it all on the line, all of them for their Democracy.  Zac has taken to asking me this question each day, and it grounds me.  It helps me notice and savors the joys in life alongside its agonies.

    My last bog post I wrote about beginning again, again.  And it is so true.  Spring of course reminds us dramatically of new life.  But every day we begin anew as well.  So moving through this year I want us to begin again and again with joy.

    Like the old song lyric, “looking for love in all the wrong places,” I believe we also look for JOY in all the wrong places.  We leap to our grand dreams and desires.  Big moments.  You know the ones that in every life are actually few and far between!

    Well at least some of us do this.  I do this.  Maybe you do too. “I’ll feel joyful when there’s World Peace. When Putin has an appetite for democracy.  When I’m X pounds thinner. Or have Y amount more in my bank account.” You get the idea.

    When I/we define joy grandly it becomes almost inaccessible.  Since we cannot will these big things into being with a proverbial magic wand, we allow our grand aspirations to render all the truly accessible everyday moments and ordinary joys “less than”  or “not enough.” Bet you can see where this leaves us.  Definitely outside of joy.

    For example, yesterday I finished a chapter in a book I am reading. Immediately my ego-mind (the birthplace of grand dreams and plans) chimes in “This shouldn’t have taken so long.  You are too slow, too unfocused.”  A small moment of completion, of satisfaction, and success (which fits the Merriam-Webster definition of joy) is thus wiped out by those critical thoughts.  And so is…Joy!   Gone!

    Joy is elusive.  True.  BUT equally true is she’s more readily available than we think.  Available yes, but also, she scares easily. To cultivate her, we need to study her.  Here’s what we know:

    • We are deeply present in moments of joy.  It both fills us with good vibes…like the wind in our sails on a perfect Halcyon Day, while simultaneously anchoring us.
    • Joy steadies us.  In these moments we have the sense that life is good.  An awareness of what a gift it truly is.  This holds true even when outside those moments life is clearly not good.  She helps us endure the clearly-not-good.
    • Joy expands us. Physiologically, my chest swells while gazing at the sunrise, and mentally, I have the sensation of being connected to both the visible and the unseen worlds.  Time seems to stand still.  I step outside of clock time into timelessness.  I am both a human in my life on planet earth and also of the gods, connected to the vastness of all that is.

    Joy is how humans endure unimaginable suffering.  It is necessary for wellbeing.  AND of course, it never stays.  Which explains our ambivalent relationship with moments of joy.  Brene Brown talks about “Foreboding Joy” in her book Daring Greatly.  She speaks directly to our anxiety, our deep vulnerability when we embrace joy, in this 5 minute clip from Super Soul Sunday with Oprah:  Foreboding Joy

    It turns out that joy makes us feel terribly vulnerable.  Thus our reluctance to embrace it when available.  Brene tells us that our ambivalence is because some part of us knows that she, JOY, is not moving in for good.  She will come and she will definitely go.  And we assume we will feel loss and other uncomfortable things when she exits.  Therefore, as Brown says, we try to beat vulnerability to the punch by “dress rehearsing tragedy,” as if that will protect us from missing her when she moves on.   AND when we do that, she, joy, is left outside and we are inside our worried minds, missing her completely.

    If, as Brown states based on her research, joy is the most terrifying of feelings, and if, as I believe it is also necessary especially in dark times, how do we hold this paradox? For the sake of our own wellbeing, how do we risk the terror that comes with joy? Turns out the answer is easy and not frightening, because we only have to take some simple little, baby steps.  But every day.  Slow and steady will win this race.

    Noticing is the tried-and-true path to activating feelings of joy.  Noticing has to do with our conscious choice about where to direct our attention.  It is such a simple but potent act.  Here is your mission if you choose to accept it:


    3 times a day, set a timer and spend 1-or 2-minutes noticing something that delights you.  Maybe go outside or look out a window.  Pull up a beautiful image online or smell your cologne or light a candle and watch the flame.  You might listen to a few minutes of a favorite piece of music or read a quote…but stay small…close to the ground.  AND LINGER…Take the delight in.  Expand it.  Make it bigger.  Let yourself fill up.

    The trick is to be disciplined about it, taking only 1 or 2 minutes.  End on time and wave goodbye knowing you will return in a few hours for another dose.  Do you see what is happening?  Actually, several things:

    1. YOU (not some external force) are choosing joy through where you place your attention.
    2. You are empowering yourself through your own noticing (a thing you always have with you).   This gives you an increased sense of agency and control of your experience.
    3. You are reminding yourself that YES!  FOR SURE JOY WILL LEAVE…you will show her the door in 2 minutes, AND she will RETURN.  She will always return because she depends on the one thing you control.  Where you put your attention.
    4. You are not GRASPING for joy.  You are building trust in yourself and in joy.  You are building resilience too.
    5. You are increasing the amount of joy in your life.  By doing this 3 times a day for at least 3 weeks (that is how long it takes to make a habit) you are also defeating Brown’s “Foreboding Joy.” We are here for such a short time really.  Why not decide to notice as much Joy as possible?  Or as the poet Mary Oliver says in her poem The Summer Day (below):

    Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon?

    Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?


    Summer Day by Mary Oliver

    Who made the world?

    Who made the swan, and the black bear?

    Who made the grasshopper? 

    This grasshopper, I mean ~

    the one who has flung herself out of the grass

    the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

    who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down ~

    who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

    Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

    Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

    I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

    I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

    into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

    how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

    which is what I have been doing all day.

    Tell me, what else should I have done.

    Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon?

    Tell me, what is it you plan to do 

    with your one wild and precious life?

    April 22nd, 2022 | admin | Comments Off on Ode to Joy | Tags: , , , , ,

About Nancy


Nancy C. Wonders is an interior designer. The “interiors” she designs are psychological, not physical, space -- a client’s personal interior landscape, or the emotional barometer of a team, or an entire organization. Nancy’s office includes a “design bar” where clients have a chance to re-invent how they see themselves and/or their organizations. These re-structurings result in discovering what is fresh, new and alive. This discovery prompts profound, immediate change, on both the inside and in interactions with others. Read more»

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