We often seek an ideal of happiness that is a kind of steady state, a “happily ever after.” But life is never actually like that (and in the rare cases when it is, we often get a bit bored). So I love this question because it inherently acknowledges that ups and downs will happen. Here are a few things I recommend for dealing with these inevitable fluctuations in our happiness.
- Recognize that joy is an inherently wavelike experience. It rises, peaks, and then dissipates. This can help us reset our expectations about what life should be like, rather than leave us disappointed when joy fades. Sometimes it can help to remember that highs and lows are proportional – that we’d never feel the height of joy if we had never been sad, and that the sadness we feel is because we found such joy in an experience in the first place.
- Focus more on creating and anticipating new moments of joy than clinging to the old. I think what is most painful about that space between joyful moments is that we don’t know when joy will find us next. So focus on that. Plan things to look forward to to turn your orientation from loss toward gain.
- Embed joy in your surroundings. Place things that make you smile when you see them. Mine include a light fixture in the entryway made of colored glass that throws bright shadows on the walls, a fern with curvy leaves that seems to be reaching up to give me a high five, and a collection of brightly colored cards sent by friends that I have taped to the wall above my desk. Even when I’m in a bad mood, these things provide small sparks of joy that give me an unconscious lift.
- Pay attention to cycles. The cycles of nature can often help bring a sense of movement and joy back to our lives. Look for the unique joys of the moment you’re in, the holidays and seasonal pleasures that are fleeting and are only available for a short while.
- Remember the Japanese idea of “mono no aware.” Loosely translated, it means, “the gentle sadness of things” and is often used to describe the feeling people get around the blossoming of the cherry trees each year. Embracing mono no aware means throwing yourself into a joyful experience with full awareness of its bittersweet transience, recognizing that loss is part of joy too.
- Make joy for someone else. Mark Twain once said, “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer someone else up.” So throw someone a party, host a silly movie marathon, or go volunteer at a homeless shelter – the more you can focus on other people’s joy, the more likely you are to find joy catch you by surprise.
- Remember that you can feel joy even when things are going wrong. A few months ago, when my husband and I had a burst pipe in our home, we found ourselves on the other side of the county trying to drive back from vacation in a snowstorm. The situation was miserable – we were freezing and exhausted and were worried sick about how bad the damage might be – but it was also ridiculous. We took turns making each other laugh to keep our spirits up, which in turn kept us calm and sane as we had to deal with the unpleasant and complicated situation.
Published on: Sep 13, 2018