I don’t know about you, but these last 10 months have felt more like more hard work than delight. More tight than loose. More pressure than relaxation. More laundry than ecstasy.
When I talk with people in organisations the theme I get is about surviving-not-thriving and feeling overwhelmed. We’re coping, but just. We’re doing ok, but at a price.
I was reminded about something I once heard … that when we’re under pressure and stress we give away first what nourishes us the most. Give away FIRST what nourishes us the MOST ☹
I don’t want to do that. So I’ve been paying more attention to what I need in my life to nourish and sustain me – and consistently. One thing is moments of joy.
‘Joy is a deep form of love’, says David Whyte and so I’m understandably interested in it.
Firstly because joy is a ‘gateway’ emotion
In the field of shadow work, joy is said to be the gateway emotion to our inner Sovereign. This is the part of us that is wisest and most loving – generous and expansive, our wise adult, inspiring and connected to our purpose and mission, firmly rooted in our heart and emotions, affirming and nurturing – with a vision for how we want to be and show up in the world. A bit like our inner elder that I’ve written about before. And joy gets us there.
A bit like David Whyte says: ‘to feel a full and untrammeled joy is to have become fully generous; to allow ourselves to be joyful is to have walked through the doorway of fear, the dropping away of the anxious worried self’.
It’s true for me that when I feel joyful, I can let the small things fall away, I can be the most generous version of myself, the version of myself I’m proud of. For me, there’s a direct link between expansion and love. And joy helps me expand into a more loving version of myself.
Secondly, joy is infectious
In my leadership and love research, respondents said that more love in the workplace would be contagious, that it would spread. If one person was more loving, then others would be. A love pandemic, perhaps.
It’s said that joy is the most contagious emotion, it’s catching, and it connects people. Joy connects people more powerfully than almost any other human experience, say an HBR article. I suppose we only have to watch something on YouTube where people are convulsed with laughter to know the truth of that.
The same article suggests we have a ‘joy gap’ in work and wonders how we can bridge that. That feels true for me. As I coach people, I don’t get the sense of much joy these days.
But it’s a good question for us in our lives – do we have a joy gap? It’s also a good question for each of us too – am I lacking joy? How can I bridge my own joy gap? Where can I catch some joy – and from whom, what and where?
Because sometimes joy needs permission and encouragement
It can be the case that we’ve become unused to showing or feeling joy. A friend of mine was brought up in a household where the phrase ‘all fun ends in tears’ was regularly used. No surprise then that he rarely expresses delight or joy, even if he feels it.
In contrast, another friend of mine loves to celebrate things exuberantly and joyfully. And I’m not like that at all – much more low key – I had a loving but rather serious upbringing. So I find myself a bit envious about her easy connection with her joy.
So feelings that were perhaps unwelcome in childhood because of the way our parents were … ‘stop being so excitable’ – ‘just sit down and be quiet’ – ‘calm down’ … might mean that we squash those feelings as adults. We might, as Jung would say, put those feelings into ‘shadow’, hiding them from the world for fear of being judged critically for expressing them.
Along similar lines, maybe, Brene Brown mentions joy and how we have become fearful of it, suggesting that it’s too painful to imagine something going well or something being joyful because the pain of it NOT being so is too much to bear. Her phrase for this is ‘foreboding joy’. Take a look at The Call to Courage on Netflix where she talks about this.
But sometimes, joy isn’t banished, just neglected.
I recently ran a 5 day leadership programme with some very senior leaders in a pharmaceutical company. They were asked to bring a picture of themselves as young child and we ran a session where they reconnected with what that child loved doing, what that child dreamed of, what brought that child joy, what did they love to play …? They loved it.
So much of what we need as adults comes from what we loved as a child. For me it was nature and the outdoors and quiet reading time. What did you love then … and are you getting enough of it (any of it?) now? What joy could you bring back from your childhood, even in tiny form, that could spark joy today?
And the good news is that joy is everywhere if you’re open to it
Pronoia is the belief that the universe is conspiring on your behalf to shower you with blessings. It’s the opposite of paranoia and includes seeing the joy in the everyday. It’s finding wonder in the ordinary, seeing the magic in the mundane.
Tiu de Haan regularly talks in her Newsletters about walks around London where she finds delight and joy in the smallest of moments – things she finds, things she sees and connections she makes. Because joy is always there to be found. But also because she’s actively looking for those moments.
As the poet Caitlin Johnstone says in The Alive Ones:
So, what brings you joy?
It’s a deeply person one, this. Very tailored, very bespoke. Even quirky.
In Joyful, Ingrid Fettell Lee says, ‘the gods of good taste demand sacrifices and it’s always the weird and quirky parts of ourselves that are the first to be thrown on the pyre… yet it’s in these parts of us that surprises are, and therefore a great deal of joy’.
And I’m slowly getting better at learning for myself what brings me joy and, as Fettell Lee says, it’s so often in small and ordinary things.
I know it’s having fresh flowers in the house; getting out on the Downs for a long walk; sea swimming; going back to bed on a Saturday afternoon with a book or for a snooze; installing a string of bright pom-poms hanging from my doorframe; laughing at my husband’s very clever and equally childish sense of humour; dancing on Zoom with workshop participants to Edge of Glory…
For David Whyte, it’s: ‘dance, laughter, affection, skin touching skin, singing in the car, music in the street, the quiet irreplaceable and companionable presence of a daughter: the sheer intoxicating beauty of the world … the sheer privilege of being in the presence of the ocean … aromas of the first spring day or a wood fire in winter …
Oh, and I recently gave Sanae, who does my garden, a big bag of bulbs – tulips, lillies and alliums … and asked her to plant them anywhere she thought would work, and not tell me where, so I could be surprised in the Spring. She thought that was hilarious… but I’m looking forward to some joyful moments 😊
Every little counts if I want to stay sane and loving through these tricky times. And if I want to stay connected to love, joy will help.
So let me leave you with these questions… What brings you joy? What do you notice happens to you when you feel joy? What shifts within you? Do you let joy in? What do you do intentionally to bring more of it into your life? And with more joy what might be possible for you? Joy is a gateway to love, for me – what is joy a gateway for, for you? What one thing could you do today that might feel joyful?