I fancy myself a person who finds the little joys in life. In high school, my friends used to say I was tipsy on life. I remember walking the emotionally heavy halls of the school with a smile on my face just to see if I could make passersby smile. It made me feel better during those turbulent times. And it makes me feel better today.
I learned early on that it was easier to smile than to frown. I can’t imagine how much harder adolescence would have been for me—the anxiety, the social turmoil—if I had defaulted to a frown. That smile helped me find comfort and confidence while encouraging others to be lighter in their hearts.
While I didn’t know it then, that smile, that elusive little curve of the lips, was a symptom of the shining spot of happiness in my heart; a natural state of being that came hardwired into who I am. As I’ve gotten older (and perhaps a little wiser), I’ve learned that whether we are hardwired for joy or not, we all have the power to cultivate it.
The Little Joys of Now
I’m sitting here watching a flurry of snow settle onto the lava rocks in my front yard. The imposing pine trees in the distance stand tall, like watchmen over our little homestead. The winds continue to shift, sending snowflakes east, then west, then east again. Sgt. White Pepper—my tender heart pooch—stands at the window, admiring the dance of the flakes. My dog Rosie is curled against my thigh, hibernating beneath a warm, fleece comforter.
When I awake in the morning, I come downstairs to a glowing living room that has been infused with the orange light of our pellet stove. It’s gentle hush and the clinking of pellets falling into the fire pot tell me that the sun will rise soon. It’s quiet. Still. I can see smoke billowing from a faraway neighbor’s chimney. The sun hides beneath the horizon. It’s in no hurry either. I heat some water, squeeze a lemon, and sit on the couch with my two dogs. I might, practice yoga or Reiki, or read a book—lately, it’s The Camino by Shirley Maclaine.
These seemingly small moments are huge to me. They are the moments that make me who I am. As human beings, I believe it’s easy to get caught up in the tasks of life and focus too heavily on goal-oriented joys—new jobs, marriage, birthdays, vacation, holidays, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of those things! They are part of what makes our lives worth celebrating. Heck, I’m known for celebrating un-brithdays and Tuesdays! But those “reasons” for joy are only a small part of the equation.
The little joys that fill up my heart, including those hidden in the beginning of my day, make other joys accessible.
Cultivating the Little Joys
I believe when we acknowledge and indulge in the little joys of life every day—for instance, a morning cup of joe that hugs you into consciousness, a yoga practice, an early morning walk, cuddling in bed with your pets or your partner, a rigorous workout followed by tea with friends, a hike, a picnic, a nap—we program ourselves to find enjoyment more often, including in stressful times or times when there’s nothing much to talk about. When we cultivate a way of thinking that focuses on tiny moments that make us smile, or at least feel content, big moments become bonus material rather than the things we live for.
For instance, how do you define success? In my 20s, success was defined by completing college, becoming an editor, starting my own business, and networking. At one point, the long hours and demanding schedules put a strain on my marriage and on my health. I began to lose my hair, my stomach hurt, I felt anxious for days, weeks, months at a time. This was not success. Not anymore.
I found myself going back to basics. I asked myself hard questions like, “Am I happy?” “Do I like who I have become? Why or why not?” The answers would eventually take me to Oregon. But before it did, that little spark in my heart spoke up. It reminded me of the little joys I had been paying less attention to, such as, the joys of walking the dogs through the neighborhood on crisp mornings; the sound of my partner breathing deeply in slumber; the sight of a friend’s name or number coming up on my phone; the space that I carve for myself in a day to reset, reboot, relax.
The Big Joys
We can only truly appreciate the big joys once we have fully realized the small joys. If I had not reshaped my perspective to pay attention to and have gratitude for all the ordinary things in my life, I might have ended up on a similar path. However, these experiences would have been tainted by anxiety, stress, over-thinking, exhaustion, and a sour outlook. There would have been little joy in the process.
I simplified my life by focusing on each moment as an independent clause from the next. And now, well now, I’m ready for the big joys!
I moved to Oregon with my husband and a couple of friends. We renovated an old, previously neglected house into a warm and inviting home. We hosted our first yoga retreat and are building Vitality Yoga as community offering. We’re planning a Reiki retreat for May 2018 and the 2nd Annual Soul Candy yoga retreat in September. Plus, we’re launching an art and culture magazine, Up.St.ART Bend, which is intended to bridge the gap between creative minds and the community by sharing how creativity is a part of the human experience and is present in everything we do. Friends of ours from all corners of the world are also braving new waters and digging into the fabulous unexpected. Joy is everywhere!
It doesn’t really matter how it all shapes up. It’s the fact that we’re living life in the moment, listening to our guts, and trying new things. That’s what shapes us. Life is never perfect. There is no use waiting for that day when everything just falls into place. Life is about experiences, and experiences are painted moment by moment.
As we get ready to spend the holidays with loved ones, I can already hear the laughter spilling out of our mouths as full bellies undulate beneath conversation.
I have cried tears of joy more in 2017 than in all of the other years that have made up my life. And I believe it’s because I’m finally taking full advantage of the little joys of life. I invite you to do the same!