Joy is hiding behind every corner. It doesn’t only live in the magnificent, but in the mundane. Living mindfully and joyfully isn’t easy – we are so easily consumed by everyday stresses, distractions, hectic schedules. The less glamorous parts of our lives – commuting, paying bills, doing the dishes – can take up so much of our brainspace that it’s easy to ignore joy even when it’s nipping at your heels.
As someone who has the tendency towards melancholy, I have had to work really hard at living joyfully. I have to fight every sarcastic, biting thought, silence that inner voice that judges and condemns my every move, work on forgiveness and acceptance and unconditional love. It’s not easy. But along the way, I’ve found that there are simple ways of cultivating joy that don’t ask much from me at all.
1. Take a walk in nature.
If you look closely, nature is full of joy. The chattering of squirrels, the song of leaves fluttering in the wind, the way shadows fall on the grass. Nature simply exists, full of life. Nature expects nothing of you. It frees you. When you’re confronted with the majesty of the mountains, the vastness of the ocean, the humble beauty of a chickadee fluttering from poplar to poplar, all of a sudden the heaviness of life doesn’t seem so crushing. Nature has endless lessons for us, and all we have to do is pay attention.
2. Wear a little something extra.
A quirky bow, a blue lipstick, a scarf wrapped around your head, a big cocktail ring- don’t be afraid to look a little different. Clothing communicates who you are to the world. Having a little fun with it encourages you to be confident, lighthearted, and not take yourself too seriously – all essential components of joy.
3. Practice spirituality.
Whether you’re deeply religious, agnostic, or you don’t believe anything at all, spirituality is a deeply fulfilling and healing force. I want to emphasize that spirituality is not the same thing as religion. It is something that happens with religion or without it, with a set of beliefs or without one. You don’t necessarily have to pray, read scriptures, or perform rituals in order to nurture your spirituality. Spirituality is simply a deeper, more intentional way of experiencing life. It can be practiced by reflection, through acts of love, through reverence of nature or humans or animals or a higher power. It can be fed through creating, painting, cooking, lovemaking, studying things that you’re fascinated by, running or yoga or dancing. It’s what’s below the surface, the night realm. I was once given a wonderful piece of wisdom – when you’re so engaged by something that you lose all track of time, that’s when your soul is the happiest. That’s where joy lives. That’s spirituality.
4. Send a love letter.
I recently came across More Love Letters, a project headed by Hannah Brencher, who began by leaving love letters all across New York for people to find. This eventually grew into the project it is today – a global network of people who want to give a little love, or are in need of getting some. Every month, letter requests are shared, and you can choose to send off some words of encouragement and support to those who need it. I began writing my love letters last month, and already it’s brought me a lot of joy and fulfillment. I’ve written to complete strangers about the power of laughter, the beauty of birth, strength in weak moments, and several other subjects, and through the writing, something in myself was nurtured as well. Humans are meant to support each other, and this is such a great little venue through which you can do that.
5. Go to the dog park.
Of course, this one only really works if you’re a dog lover like me. Honestly, I’ve seen the light, and the happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland…. it’s the dog park. Dogs are so great at being joyful. They run, jump, dive into the river, stalk, hunt, play with abandon. They’re excited just to be alive. And it’s usually pretty hilarious, too.
Living joyfully requires practice. It requires patience. It requires a hell of a lot of self-reflection. Most of all, it requires the celebration of little things. You have to cultivate joy, invite it in and nourish it. It may not be easy, but it is simple – and worth every ounce of effort.