For The Joy Challenge-Find your YAY
Last week I wrote about the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is circumstantial; based on what happens, or doesn’t, in our days. Joy, on the other hand, is a deep-seated sense of well-being. My job this year (teaching 4th grade in a very challenging, high poverty elementary school) has required nearly every ounce of my energy just to get through the day. Circumstantially speaking, for 9-12 hours every day I’m completely in over my head and, despite enormous and repeated efforts to make some changes, those circumstances are not going to change until this school year is over. As a result, I’ve gotten to practice making the decision between settling for hopelessness or rising into joy, and I’ve gotten to make that choice every single day since August 2016. Some days I’ve chosen well and some days I haven’t.
Early on this school year I started to realize that I didn’t like the person I was becoming. I was negative, hopeless and not my usual fun, light self. Friends would ask how I was doing and the only things I had to tell them were about how terrible work was. Ick! I wouldn’t want to hang around me! Thankfully I have an incredible husband and wonderful friends who know who I really am and have approached me with kindness and grace as I’ve thrashed around, figuring out how to choose joy in the midst of the most challenging year of my life thus far. It hasn’t been a real smooth process and I often haven’t chosen well, but this year I’ve found that joy really is available in the middle of hard things.
As terrible week was followed by more terrible weeks, I started to learn that in order for me to choose joy I usually needed a catalyst—something to dramatically change the momentum of my thoughts/feeling on a given day. The three catalysts I found to be most effective are what May’s For the Joy challenge are built around. They’re also the three foundational ideas behind Playful Fitness. Those three joy-sparking catalysts are movement, delight and rest.
Movement is incredibly powerful! It is literally a momentum changer for your body from a state of not moving to a state of moving.
Scientifically speaking, working up a good sweat actually floods your body with happy-making hormones. Sometimes it can feel like the circumstances of our lives are pulling us down into hopelessness. Getting our bodies up and moving is taking direct action in the opposite direction. When I’ve had a hard day, sitting and thinking my way out of it usually doesn’t work. Moving changes my focus, changes my body chemistry and helps me move through the hard and into joy.
Delight is also a powerful catalyst for joy. When you’re in the middle of something hard, it’s often challenging to see the good buried in that challenge. Finding beauty outside of that challenging circumstance, however, is sort of like lowering a drawbridge for yourself that you can walk across into joy. For example, when I’ve had a hard day I can focus and spin on everything that went wrong for the rest of the evening. Or I can pull out a recipe and create something. When I do that, slowly, my focus changes from my terrible day to awe and wonder as I start delighting in the colors of the foods I’m cutting, enjoying the smells and flavors and remembering that I’m really incredibly blessed. A really good friend said once, “when you feel like life is just happening to you, that’s when it’s time to be creative. When you create, you’re happening to life.” Making an easy meal out a box can be a fast, easy solution. Sometimes it’s the right choice. But pulling out a whole spaghetti squash and creating a meal is one of those hidden on ramps for delight that is accessible on an average Tuesday. You might not have time to create a masterpiece of art, but you have to eat anyway, so why not use that need as an opportunity to create and use delight as an entrance to joy.
Movement and delight are great launch pads into joy, but rest is also incredibly important, especially in the midst of challenging circumstances. What I learned this year, however, is that there is a very big difference between real rest and fake rest. Real rest allows me to exchange my pain for joy. Fake rest numbs my pain for a while but does nothing healthy in exchange. Fake rest, for me, is watching TV, scrolling through social media or organizing closets. It distracts me for a while but the reality is that my pain and hopelessness are still there, waiting for me when I’m done. Real rest requires me to get quiet enough to be able to be present to my own heart. Then I am able to acknowledge the hurts in my heart, take a deep breath and decide what to do with them. Sometimes I‘m able to laugh them off. Sometimes I’ll write them down or talk to someone or (my personal favorite) ask God what He sees from His perspective. When I’m really resting and getting present I get to hand over my hurts and receive joy in return.
May is my last month of this school year. I’ve learned to choose joy more and more often over the last 10 months, but I still want more and I don’t want to sit around and wait for my circumstances to improve to get it. That said, the For The Joy Challenge is an invitation for anyone and everyone to join me in a month of turning up the dial on joy. Click the For The Joy Challenge in the menu bar to view and download the challenge. Follow me on Instagram @playfulfitness and on Facebook. Invite a friend to do this challenge with you. Record what strategies help you choose joy and which ones don't. Use May as a springboard into a life-long journey of choosing joy in both the happy and the hard circumstances that come with life.