Citizen, Father, Human, Husband

Choosing joy, when looking for joy is harder

When it’s harder than ever to choose joy, we risk accepting its absence. That can become a self-fulfilling prophecy of joyless days. We may fuel a vicious cycle dragging us further and further away from joy.

But, when we make the effort to look for joy, we increase our chances of breaking our self-inflicted prisons and creating a virtuous cycle that builds off of positive reinforcement.

Sure, there’s no guarantee it’ll be successful. But when choosing joy is harder? Not looking for joy at all guarantees failure.

My previous post (“How are we to live?“) was at the start of the pandemic, when the world was just entering a lockdown period for what was hoped to be no more than a month or two of measures to disrupt the pandemic’s spread. Some five months later, the list of macro-level and personal problems has grown to unimagined levels. Those problems have propagated anxiety, depression, health issues and complications, concern for the country’s future, uncomfortable conversations, no-right-answer choices, and a general malaise. In the U.S. and other countries, the confluence of civil unrest, a pandemic, economic woes, and existential threats to safety and security have made choosing joy harder than it’s been for a generation.

The result is like a scene out of a fantasy novel, where the hero with the cursed helm/ring/necklace struggles against overwhelming fear and dread to fight for what’s right. It’s so easy to meekly accept the darkness and idly pin our hopes on being saved. Someone will fix our problems for us, right? The world will get better… we just have to wait. And so we wait. And wait. And the darkness consumes us, bit by bit.

To wait for joy is to play the victim. It’s to passively give up agency and bet that an uncaring world will care, or that others will rescue you. It’s to pass up the opportunity to take more control of your reality — a real shame, because even trying to take control makes you feel better, and abdicating it just brings more tears.

Paradoxically, there’s joy in looking for joy. So even if you don’t find it… you do. At least a little.

Citizen, Human

How are we to live?

How does one find joy in troubled times? How are we to live, when existential threats such as a pandemic virus disrupt our day-to-day activities and curtail our ability to enjoy our favorite activities?  How do we keep going when an unknown, hard-to-quantify threat to our health lurks in the shadows?

Some words from C.S. Lewis have surfaced that, despite being written in 1948 regarding a different existential threat, are inspiring to read:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

As Brad Feld noted on his blog, one could easily rewrite that last paragraph to apply to us now:

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by a virus, let that virus when it comes find us doing sensible and human things, but with social distancing in the near term to slow it down—working from home, teaching remotely, reading, listening to music on our stereos, bathing the children, exercising at home, chatting to our friends over a video conference—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about viruses. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Citizen, Father, Leadership, Marketer, Musician

Discovering competence

Most of us have been in situations where we arrive on a scene, especially when joining a new group, and learn that something is going terribly wrong. The Boy Scout group planning an activity is disorganized. The band uniforms to distribute are all in a giant unsorted pile. The last guy wasn’t enforcing the rules so violations are commonplace. The previous leadership didn’t put key systems in place to make it easier to make decisions. So you must decide whether to let it rot, or whether to step forward and exert your will to course correct.

But sometimes, you discover competence. The people in the group you’ve joined have already figured things out. Processes are in place and they work. There are precedences which guide behavior, or a positive culture focused on getting the job done. Inventory is organized; leaders are stepping up, setting examples, and giving direction; exceptions are flagged and handled. Sure there are problems, but they are identified, triaged, and assigned an owner. The primary decision is not whether to help, it’s to decide where and how you can contribute to them moving faster and being more successful.

Don’t let that joy of discovering competence go unacknowledged. Remind the competent that they’ve come a long way and are doing a great job. Give hearable praise about why what they’re doing is making a difference. Because there’s a good chance they’ve forgotten while they target the blemishes and try to keep the positive energy moving forward.

Citizen, Fan

Trivial trivia

There’s important trivia, like “Who was the 30th president of the US?” There’s less important trivia, like “How many different ‘Mountain’ roller coasters are there on Disney properties?” And then there’s completely irrelevant, important-to-no-one-but-a-few-people-trivia, like “What was the name of that cereal that had a commercial that started with a cowboy singing ‘Get along, little blueberry critters, get along?’ ”

Unfortunately, the way our brains sometime work, those irrelevant questions can get stuck in our heads.

Fortunately, this is one of those situations where the Internet giveth rather than taketh away. All of those questions, yes even the blueberry critters one, is solvable with a quick Internet search. Our society’s collective brains have been indexed for us, so our trivia answers can be on demand, while our brains focus on more important things.  (Y’know, like more difficult posers the Internet can’t answer, such as, “How many different characters touch a lightsaber handle in the original Star Wars trilogy?”)

So yes, there is joy in having a repository of knowledge stretching back decades to scratch those mental itches, instead of everyone shrugging their shoulders or pulling out encyclopedias from the library.

 

Citizen, Human

Look for the Helpers

One town north of me, a tragedy has unfolded. Problems with an over-pressurized natural gas line led to dozens of explosions and 70+ houses on fire. Three towns have evacuated their residents.

Local news has been reporting nonstop on the craziness. But they’ve also been pointing out the places that evacuees can go for help. Firefighters from dozens of miles away rushed to the town to help. Churches and schools on the outskirts are opening their doors as temporary shelters for hundreds. Local hotels are offering their extra capacity rooms to displaced families. A local pet boarding service has offered boarding for free to displaced pets. Neighbors and friends are opening their doors and setting up air mattresses.

Fred Rogers was right. The world is full of people willing to jump in and help.