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.

Human, Leadership, Marketer

Puzzles

When your brain is fully engaged in a challenging puzzle, the rest of the world can fade away.

It could be a pencil and paper puzzle, like a cryptic crossword clue or “who owns the zebra” logic puzzle. It could be the situational puzzles that come up in complex board games, like how am I going to get the most points from these three moves, or which sequence of cards can I play to win on this turn. Or it could be work puzzles, like how to structure a fluid organization, hire and fire the right people, and what processes to put in place to get the most efficiency out your employees.

Whatever the challenge, fully grabbing your brain’s attention and finding flow is enough to melt away the worries, the stress, the what-if’s, and other chatter that can occupy thinking bandwidth and negatively affect your mood. Even if a temporary respite, it’s better at bringing joy than any drug could be.

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.

Friend, Human

The unexpected death of a friend

Of course there’s not much joy in death, especially an abrupt passing that gives no one time to prepare. Grief and mourning are natural and necessary. No one ever said a joyful life wouldn’t have moments of sadness, moments of outrage, and moments of despair. We each go through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and at our own pace. That cycle is needed to get back to joy.

And there is joy, hiding behind those clouds. We celebrate our friend’s life. We see how the gap created from the friend’s sudden passing starts to affect those of us left behind. We feel our friend’s communities draw closer together. We are reminded of how precious our lives and friends are. We strive to think better, to do better, to be better, in our friend’s name.

It’s like little sparks of goodness, created from the friend’s transition, are now fanning out into the world and land on people to nudge them a little closer towards happiness and bringing joy into the world. (Fans of The Good Place will recognize this idea.)

Find those sparks and cherish them, and look for them in the darkness.