Finding joy shouldn’t be so hard

How to figure out what makes you happy, so that you can build more joy into your life

picture of a planner page

Yay! Stickers!

Hey. You. Over there. Do you know what brings you joy?

I’m honestly asking.

Do you know how to find joy at a moment’s notice? (Especially on a day like today.)

Do you consciously build it into your daily rhythms?

Because I think you might be missing out on something.

One of the plagues of the modern self-help movement is that it approaches caring for ourselves like a list of tasks to check off. We’ve stopped looking at how our individual behaviors affect our lives, and instead, made self-care an obligation.

We make fun of these lists and the sentiments that accompany them. Because a bubble bath doesn’t fix systemic injustice. And we instinctively know it.

But, while we might know that on a conscious level, we’ve also stopped thinking about the things that DO truly make us feel cared for, or figuring out ways of incorporating those things into our lives.

Basically, we’ve been trying to outsource our joy.

I don’t know if it’s the pandemic, or the state of our planet, or maybe just the state of our policing and politics. Whatever it is, there’s an oppressive weight that we all feel, and it’s causing us to retreat to helplessness.

We’ve become accustomed to feeling sad, angry, jealous, resentful, and because we have no outlet for these feelings, we aren’t releasing them from our psyches.

But like anything else, joy is a conscious practice. We have to choose to seek out the things that bring us joy, and we have to choose what that looks like in our daily lives. Consciously.

For the majority of this year, I’ve been having incredibly detailed conversations with my clients, past and present. I’ve been trying to tease out the threads of what it is that I do, and how I can do it better.

When you serve people in unusual ways, it’s especially important to get regular feedback, so that you can use that information to shape your products and services. In this way, service becomes more than a product — it becomes a mission.

These conversations have given life to something new, and I can’t wait to share it with you. It’s like my quarantine sourdough starter, but it’s not quite finished maturing yet. It still needs to be fed a couple of times before it’s ready to bake with.

I can tell you what I’ve figured out though.

Y’all suck at knowing what makes you happy.

More than anything else, the idea of deliberately crafting routines that bring you joy is the place where my people are getting stuck.

The question, “what would make you happy?” is frequently met with a blank stare, because…you don’t actually know.

You’re so starved for joy that it could beat you over the head with a very large stick, and you still wouldn’t know what hit you.

You have this sense that you SHOULD be feeling better about things, and that you KNOW it’s out there, but the “it” is too elusive to be found.

I mean, I get that.

I spent years reading about other people’s routines and rituals, just trying to figure out what makes for a good life.

After my son died, I became obsessed with hacking my routines, because I thought that if I could map out the good life on paper, I’d be able to find my way out of grief.

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work that way.

I tried so many systems. Bought courses. Read books by the dozens. Auditioned personal gurus. I was trying to find the foundations of what made life worth living, because mine was pretty bleak.

Some of the threads are common, but each approach is wildly different in how it is built or constructed. And it is rarely treated as a suggestion or framework; rather, it is The Way. And if you don’t buy-in, you just aren’t working hard enough.

But I had nearly died, so hard work? Not really part of the equation.

The truth is, joy is ALWAYS personal.

The things that light us up are unique.

There’s this delightful recipe of habits, traditions, and foundations that only YOU can create, that bakes into this lovely life that you can’t wait to live.

Some people have to have their daily meditation. Coffee is practically a religion for others. In the opposite corner, I can think of a bunch of artists who couldn’t live without their daily coke habit. As they say, different strokes for different folks.

And that’s the whole fucking point.

You aren’t supposed to find joy in other people’s routines.

You’re supposed to figure out what is uniquely yours. What specifically lights you up, and brings you joy.

I like potted lavender, the smell of books, fresh colored pencils, and the sound of puppies running (and thudding) on hardwood floors.

I love watching the sun reflect off the First National Bank as it rises, and watching the lights shut off at midnight. (They aren’t on a timer. Whoever turns them off never does it the same way twice. This tickles me, and I stay up past my bedtime a couple of times a month just to see how the lights are gonna turn off tonight. I still haven’t figured out when they turn on — more investigation is required.)

I love spending Sundays with snacks, football, and stickers for my planner. I buy myself new washi tape every time I land a new client or complete a project (I own an embarrassing amount of washi).

I love the smell after it rains less than I love the word petrichor. I also love the Oxford comma.

I deliberately integrate these things into my life, every single day.

It’s not perfect, but that’s amazing too. I love that I get to build my life exactly as I want it, one brick at a time.

And I want you to have the same thing too.

So, I started making a list. (Well, spreadsheet — because that’s my answer to everything, obviously.)

What brings people joy?

What ACTUALLY makes for good self-care?

What’s necessary? What’s not?

And perhaps most importantly, how do you overcome the obstacles to that joy?

I have been gathering up the things that you love, and that people throughout history have loved. I wanted something immersive so that you could pick and choose, like a menu full of joy.

But…I’m not done yet.

And as the list grows well past 300 entries, it’s no longer immersive. It’s straight-up unwieldy.

It’s not a list anymore. It’s more like an encyclopedia.

Which puts us right back where we started, because most of us probably aren’t sitting down to read The Encyclopedia of Joy. I mean, I would, but I also read the dictionary, which clearly means that I can’t be trusted.

So, all of this is an exceptionally long-winded way of introducing The Ritual of the Day.

Starting this week, I’m going to bring you a new ritual or habit or practice or tradition six days of the week. (Because that football and planning day is sacred.)

They won’t be long, because, again, that’s the whole fucking point.

I want you to be able to look at this habit or practice, and know within a couple of seconds if it’s right for you. I want you to be able to say, “no that’s not for me,” and move on with your day.

Conversely, I also want you to be able to say, “OMG yes, I need this in my life right this instant.” Because if that’s the case, you can start figuring out how to integrate it.

You can build it in slowly, one piece at a time, in a way that feels sustainable.

So that you can build a life that is filled with all kinds of joy.

Today is a big day. I spent the last few hours standing in line with all my children to vote. I can think of it as a chore. There may have been a screaming three year old involved. A full-on tantrum that required us to change the plans some. It could have been just something else to pack into my day, a day full of obligations I didn’t consent to.

I’m honestly uncertain about the outcome of this election, and I know that no matter who wins, I now live in a country where the results are no longer guaranteed to be honored. I live in a country that is preparing for riots, and is right to do so.

It’s easy to choose fear. Uncertainty is the highlight of this day, and it would be easy to give in.

Or, I can choose to have an adventure. We packed snacks, things to do, stuff for my anxiety. We took a lovely little walk, got some exercise, had a fun lesson for my children about civic rights and responsibilities, and appropriate behavior in the polling place. They gave me a little sticker that I put in my planner, so basically, that’ll be the highlight of my day. And when we were done, we stopped in the park and ate lunch, and watched the leaves fall. It could have been worse.

Later this afternoon, I’ll be going live to answer questions about feeling hopeful. I might do some work (or I might take a nap), play outside more with my children, eat a meatloaf that I don’t have to cook, and then, settle in for a long night. I know that I am not in control of what happens next, and all I can do is bear witness.

And yet, I am hopeful.

Because no matter what happens, I get to choose. “For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.”

I’ve lost a lot of peace of mind already. I’ve surrendered a lot of joy to things that I don’t have to feel. I don’t wanna lose any more.

I hope you will join me.

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About the author 


Briar Harvey is a storyteller and systems witch. She believes that everything has a story and exists within a system. The trick then, is figuring out how to change the rules, and tell a better story. You can hear her talk about systems twice a week on her live radio show, Ask Briar. You can also listen to her talk about terrible kids movies on the podcast Latchkey Movies.

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