Finding Your Joy

Here’s a story that sits close to home. My mom’s cousin Jeff, who was very much like an uncle to Kara and me, never had an easy life. By the time I really got to know him as he made annual trips during Christmas break to be at the farm, he was working a job he hated, putting in his time until he could afford retirement. The work environment was caustic and humiliating, and he couldn’t wait to be free.

The Christmas we saw him after retirement, the usually Eeyore-like Jeff had a twinkle in his eye and a bright smile on his face. “I would recommend retirement to everyone!” he exclaimed, excited to talk about his dream of getting a motorhome, loading up the cats, and road tripping around the country.

But by that July, Jeff had pancreatic cancer, and he was gone in less than eight months. Our hearts broke. Christmas after that has felt like there’s been a great hole in it without Jeff’s bear hugs, epic Sorry matches, time together in the kitchen, and deep conversations.

My plea from this family experience? Don’t wait to find your joy.

Now, that doesn’t mean immediately go quit your job and buy the motor home, unless that’s what you need. But don’t pass up joy, even everyday little ones, saving up for a future “maybe” experience, if you get there. Hygge (hoo-ga) culture is filled with making space for everyday joy, whether through a small splurge, a spirited activity, or a cozy moment.

As spring approaches and the eaves start dripping in the warming sun, planning the garden and starting some seeds may bring you joy. The earthy smell of the damp starting soil, the colorful packets of seeds, the promise of green and life returning to the earth after the long winter are all healing and joyful qualities. I’m planning to dig my way into one of the high tunnels, turn over the earth, and start some spinach—good soul medicine.

Or maybe your joy is choosing to adopt a pet from a local Humane Society, planning for some backyard chickens this spring, or feeding the songbirds. Animals (both wild and domestic) can bring us much joy with their antics, spunk, and optimism. Loneliness is a silent killer of the soul, and it can strike even when we are surrounded by other people. Love given and received from animals can be just as powerful of an antidote to loneliness as human company.

Bring spring indoors. Start some bulbs inside for early bursts of color and fragrance. You can always plant them outside later, once temperatures are safe. Bulbs are amazingly hearty, and their succulent determination as they reach for the sunny window offers a spark of joy as March turns the view outside into drab browns and grays.

If you haven’t already, try making maple syrup or helping someone with their sugarbush. March can feel muddy and icky and less than inviting to be outside, but the simple joys of watching the sap drip-drip into the pail or bag and tasting the steaming brew as it cooks down can bring a sense of magic to the season. And who wouldn’t love a drizzle of homemade maple syrup on fresh cornbread for their next fika (fee-ka) snack!

Make something for someone else and give it to them. No need to make a big deal about it. Show up with fresh bread at a neighbor’s house, knit a hat for your niece, or bring a fresh batch of muffins to work. For ideas, think of a process that gives you joy (baking, knitting, woodworking, origami, whatever!), and think of someone you would wish to offer joy in receiving your handmade gift. That way, both of you experience that special lift of giving and receiving freely.

Give yourself permission to do things that brings you joy that you know you always put off. Spend a day in your studio space, stand on the shore of Lake Superior and just listen, dust off that beloved project that’s been lingering in the corner, open the box of family photos, strum your guitar and hum or sing along. If it brings you joy, who cares if you’re “good at it” by anyone’s standard. Joy isn’t just for professionals—in fact they often have less joy than those who engage in activities simply for the fun of it.

So, go do it—find your joy! Don’t wait for someone else’s permission. That’s a thief of joy. Don’t wait for “someday” because there are no guarantees. Tell the naysayers it’s part of your hygge practice for everyday joy, so they can just leave you alone. And if that doesn’t work, tell them I gave you permission to pursue your joy, so there! Here’s your permission slip, run with it. A thousand tomorrows can slip away like sand in your fingers, leaving only regrets.

Fear is, above all, the greatest killjoy, flanked by its minion worry. They can consume all your energy, spicing it up with flares of anger or pangs of guilt just to keep you in the game. But we can choose to, as the ancient poet Rumi says, “Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.” Allowing small moments of joy into our everyday life is a great practice for beginning the disentanglement. Please join me in choosing joy for health, healing, and wholeness. See you down on the farm sometime.