I started this year, not with a long list of New Year's resolutions, but with only one guiding goal — it was more like a compass then a destination. I decided it was going to be a year where I picked joy above all else. When push came to shove, I was focusing on finding more joy.
The previous five years have been riddled with heartbreak and loss, trauma and pain. They have also been overlaid with a lot of learning, love and light. Our family has seen our share of struggles and miracles. I have grown and changed in some good ways. But as 2017 began, I could sense something had gone missing — like I had misplaced my keys. It was my joy.
I am not talking about happiness. I am speaking of joy. I like to think of joy as a deeper, more complex version of happiness.
If you are reading this and you fight depression or anxiety, please understand I that I am not suggesting that you can just choose joy. But I do believe that people who struggle with life can understand processes of finding joy. It can feel like a game of hide-and-seek. I started this last year as a quest for seeking and finding joy under rocks, around corners, and in some very unlikely places.
I hope my walk through the past 330 days will inspire you on your own joy journey.
January — Letting go
On the 16th, my only son arrived in Zimbabwe, a country on the African continent on the other side of the world. There is something heart wrenching and joyful when you watch your child leave to be challenged and taught. We felt the loss of not having him around the dinner table but we also began rejoicing as the pictures and letters arrived. The first clue in finding joy was letting go more.
What can you let go of to receive something new?
February — New friends
As I celebrated another birthday, I realized that in 46 years, I have known some amazing friendships. I have connected with lovely people at every stage and in every season of life — childhood, teens, college, newly married, young motherhood and middle age. I love meeting new people but rarely do those connections develop into lasting bonds. The older I have gotten the more I value a quality few in my tribe. February taught me that joy is found in staying open to making new friends not just new acquaintances. It was at one lunch meeting, at the Blue Bird Cafe in Logan where two people became friends not just acquaintances.
Do you have room for a new friend? Is there someone that needs you as a friend this coming year?
March — Healing comes
Every year, probably for the rest of my life, March will hold a tender place in my heart. It is the anniversary month of my sister Meggan's suicide. As the third anniversary of her passing came this year, I still felt the void. I still wept for the details surrounding her death. But I noticed healing had come. It was almost like I was observing myself. There was evidence — small things — that signaled I was healing.
Can you observe places in your heart where you are healing? Can you stay open to more healing no matter the trauma?
April — Step out of your comfort zone
Confession: I have travel anxiety. It is the unknown, packing and thinking through all the contingency plans, wondering if I will be able to handle new environments and conditions. So when an opportunity to travel overseas came to me, most of my heart jumped for joy and another part of my brain went into anxiety. I know there are thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies that would never categorize this trip as an adventure, but it was for me. I was stepping out of my comfort zone and I wondered how it would turn out. It was wonderful. Amazing. Life changing. Joyful. Even now I think back on April and feel joy. But I remember on the front end of the adventure, I felt a ton of anxiety. Finding joy means being willing to step out of your comfort zone.
What can you try this year that feels just uncomfortable enough to open you up for an adventure?
May — Furry friends
All of the doggie owners in the world are rolling their eyes. I know you all told me! When one of our two children moved to Zimbabwe, we felt the gap. We knew our daughter and son's bond would last over the two years he served in Africa, but we also understood the void his leaving created for her. So I combed the ads. On the last day of school, I found Ruby Jane, and the beautiful black poodle-shihtzu-pom mix dog joined our family. For a non-pet house, getting a dog was a big decision, but it was the right decision. It has taken some adjustment, but overall animals are great at hide-and-seek, chase and bringing joy into a family. I have found joy each time I come home and Ruby tries to lick all the skin off of my face. Our dog loves us no matter what. Each time we take a moment with Ruby, joy is found.
I am not suggesting everyone run out and adopt a pet, but consider the total mindfulness and love an animal can bring into your lives. Finding joy involves more snuggles and kisses.
June — Nights away
Twenty-six years ago I married a wonderful man. We have experienced, lost, loved and learned a ton. Rob and I are good partners but sometimes we just don't take the time we should. The budget didn't allow for much more than a night away, but it was just enough. We walked, talked, ate out, and slept in. We were reminded why we started this journey together in the first place. I was reminded that a little time away is good for the soul.
Can you carve out a few nights away, this year, to remember your joy?
July — Go home
Summer time is a great time to find joy, with sunshine, water, family and travel. Our family went back home. We saw family and friends. We swam in a lake and barbecued. That was it. Simple joyful moments. Going home brought up all the feelings — the sad and happy ones. While we were home, I showed my junior high to my daughter. I showed her where I had learned to drive a stick shift and ate pizza with my friends on the weekends. Little did we realize that a few months later, those rolling hills of my youth would be destroyed by the Cascade Fire. Going home meant I could share my history with my daughter. I found joy seeing it through her eyes.
Going home can be complicated and healing. So go home this year.
August — Work
This year hasn't looked like I thought it would. In some ways, it has been so much better. In other ways, different and disappointing. One way I have experienced joy, and continue to find it, has been by working. I know when my husband went through periods of unemployment, nothing felt more joyful than work.
Can work feel more joyful this year? Can you see it as opportunity to create and contribute? Is there a hobby or a talent that you have put on a shelf? Consider pulling it down and dusting it off for 2018.
September — Self-care
I wrote a number of columns on choosing and finding joy this year. One of the best ways for my soul to stay open to experiencing and feeling is making sure I provide self-care. When I stop making time to fill up the well, I quickly turn into a controlling and irritated mess. Massage is one of my favorites. I have started using light therapy and I am hopeful this will prove helpful during the long Utah winter months. I have taken time and money to do a little upkeep this year. I have come to know that investing in me means there is more me to share with those I love.
Can you add one new self-care practice to your calendar? Meditation costs nothing. Add it to your budget. You are worth it.
October — Try new things
Has your daily routine become predictable? I have come to realize that if I am going to experience real joy, I need to keep growing. I am a work in progress and like to see progression. Change comes only in moving forward. I am learning that more joy comes in living authentically and that means risking failure.
What is one new thing you can try this year? Are you ok trying and failing? I promise you will fail but you will also succeed. It just requires trying.
November — Saying thank you
It is said that joy is the simplest form of gratitude, but I have come to know that expressing gratitude brings simple joy. My grandma taught me the power of thank-you notes. I love to send them. They may be a bit old fashioned, but they live longer than a text or a phone call. Send a thank you or keep a gratitude list.
I have been keeping a gratitude list for many years. Some days I am thankful for toothpaste and a warm bed. Thanksgiving has just passed, but I promise if we keep gratitude on our minds, we will find joy.
Pickup a pack of thank you notes the next time you are at the store. The more you express gratitude, you will have more to be grateful for.
December — Tradition
Every year, around this time, traditions are in charge. For the past 10 years, my daughter and I have attended the "Nutcracker" with our best sister-friends. We dress up and mark the passing of another year. No matter what has happened, we enjoy an afternoon of ballet and beauty. All seems right in the world as we watch the Sugar Plum Fairies dance. Our family opens up new pajamas on Christmas Eve. This year we are renewing a past tradition. We are attending the wonderful Michael McLean production of "The Forgotten Carols." Traditions are like guideposts in life. They allow us to mark the paths. No matter how happy the passing year has been, I have learned that joy can still be experienced.
"Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting," said President Thomas S. Monson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values."
Can you start or restart a tradition?
This year I have learned about experiencing more and finding more joy. It starts with choosing to focus on it. I know that joy isn't about being happy all the time or having everything work out perfectly. Joy can show up in the worst of times and in the best of times. It can be found in the face of a baby and in the hand of your grandmother as she passes this life. I have found joy in stepping into the uncomfortable places and sitting at home with my dog.
As C.S. Lewis stated, "Joy is the serious business of heaven."
Man is that he might have joy — might. That word "might" means we can experience joy. We can choose joy. We can find joy. And we might even find that joy in ways and in places we had no idea were possible.