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, 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.

Father, Marketer

New room

The first grader looked up at his father. “Good luck in your New Room today, Daddy,” he said.

The child knew what it was like to go into a New Room, having done so both for kindergarten and for first grade. It meant new friends to make. New authority figures to respect. New toys to play with. A new place to sit. New opportunities for fun.

It also meant unfamiliarity and worry. It meant being unsure of what to do next. It would be re-learning routines and adapting to a different culture. It would be finding your place all over again.

“Thanks, buddy,” said the father, as he headed into the joys and uncertainty of his new job.

Father, Human, Marketer

Savoring the announcement

When you have really great news that you want to share with everyone, you’re just bursting at the seams to get it out into the world. They’re engaged! He got the job! She got her acceptance letter! We’re expecting! Whatever it is, you probably want to blast it out to the world all at once and bask in everyone’s congratulations.

But there’s a calm before the storm. It’s a brief period for us to sit back and enjoy that emotion of triumph. Call it “congratulating ourselves first.” It’s a moment of reflection that’s worth taking, both to acknowledge the big win while also staying humble as we remember all the steps leading up to this point.

Once you start taking the victory lap — and yes, you deserve that victory lap of friends’ adulation and positive energy — it becomes more about the news itself than about you. So make sure to claim that joy quietly before the parade starts.

Fan, Father, Human

The relief of bad news

Nobody likes getting bad news. But sometimes bad news is a relief, because it’s not worse news. And bad news gives us an opportunity to count our blessings.

Your pre-teen wakes you up in the middle of the night because he’s feeling sick, and then vomits. But he made it to the bathroom toilet — five years ago, that would have been on the carpet. Ten years ago that would have been all over his crib. This is an improvement!

You take him to the doctor and find out he has strep throat. That’s bad news… but it’s great news, because that means antibiotics can cure him. And, it’s not the flu, which would have taken him out for much longer… messing up weekend plans and quarantining the house, not to mention probably getting the rest of the family sick.

There’s often a counterpoint that turns “regular” bad news into good news, without being disingenuous. Favorite team didn’t advance in the playoffs? Now you can enjoy the playoffs without worrying about your team winning… or just reclaim the time you would have spent watching. Work project didn’t go as planned? Cut your losses, learn what went wrong, and make plans for next time. Didn’t get the job/date/part/promotion/win you were aiming for? You know there will be other opportunities down the road, and with that experience under your belt you’ll be even more ready for them.

The song, written by Eric Idle, was taken from the controversial 1979 film The Life of Brian - which was banned in Norway and Ireland

Cynics may decry this look-on-the-bright-side attitude as a foolish kind of forced optimism. But consider the alternatives. Complain? Curse the world? Silently suffer? Spend your time worrying what will go wrong next? Throw a tantrum? Bemoan your luck? Become paralyzed with indecision on how to react?Some mourning for What Can Not Be may be called for, but then you have to move forward.

So make the best of it, and seek those hidden pockets of joy. It’s how we survive and press on to the next challenge. We don’t have to find a silver lining on every dark cloud. But, wouldn’t it’d be foolish to stand in the rain with a closed umbrella?