My last couple of posts have had pretty heavy subjects. And though I’ve gotten some wonderful feedback on them, I want to shift gears and give you something lighter this week.
I think we all want to feel and experience joy. But, as adults, we often don’t. Why is that? I’m talking about real, true, unadulterated joy. Notice the word adult in unadulterated? We may be generally happy or content in our lives or we may be frustrated and restless. Joy, in my mind, isn’t a long-term state. It’s not the same as internal happiness and contentment. We’re taught in yoga and we read in self-help books, that happiness must come from within, that we can’t get happiness from external things. That is true. And, there are plenty of experiences, people, animals, places and memories that can bring us that sense of joy.
When was the last time you experienced pure joy? The kind that made you want to jump up and down and made you smile so much your face hurt? If it’s been a while, I’ve got a suggestion for you.
Look to your childhood. Of course I realize that not everyone had a great childhood. But the thing about children is, they are much more open to joy. They feel it much more easily than we jaded adults do.
I remember once being in a seminar for entrepreneurs. They were trying to get us to figure out how we could make our business bring us joy (my words, not theirs). They instructed us to think about what we wanted to do when we grew up, when we were young. The exercise was to try to find out what we really wanted to do, based on what we loved when we were kids. While I think that exercise missed its mark a bit – not too many middle aged small business owners were going to throw it all in to become astronauts or Broadway stars, I do think there was some relevance in the exercise.
If you met me in the last 30 years, unless you know me really well, chances are, you don’t know that as a kid, my entire existence revolved around horses. I would go to the stable every day after school, until dinnertime and would spend all day Saturday and Sunday there. I worked at the stable, to support my equine habit. I cleaned stalls, groomed, cleaned tack, guided trail rides. I took care of horses who’s owners showed up a couple times a year to ride. My summers were filled with horse shows and 4H.
In the back of my mind, I’ve always said, “Someday I’ll get back to horses.” But it never happened. Until now.
This summer, my daughter and I started volunteering for a local organization that uses equine therapy to help special needs kids. I was psyched to do something involving horses and she needs volunteer hours to graduate from high school. While I expected to enjoy it, I had no idea how profoundly it would affect me. From the moment I stepped into the barn and smelled the smells and touched the horses, I felt like I was home. It was like no time had passed. I felt as comfortable with the horses as I did 35 years ago. I remembered how to talk to a horse, how to tighten a girth, how to sit on a horse in two-point position. The smells, the sounds, everything. It all came back instantly. And filled me with Joy. Huge, big, happy joy. That feeling of I can’t stop smiling and thinking about it and talking about it.
My daughter recognized this in me immediately. Horses are not her thing. But, she has never once complained, whined, made excuses or any of those other teenagery things. When I thanked her for that, she said, “I see how happy the horses make you, Mom, and I want you to be happy.” (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I pulled the lucky card when it came to parenting!)
My point is that, while deciding to become an astronaut at 50 may not be in the cards, we can look to our childhood to understand what can bring us joy today. Did you love baseball? Join a local softball team. Did you love writing? Download and app and get on it! Maybe it was fishing, camping, singing, acting, baking, dancing. It could be any number of things, and they are all things you can do again. A good friend of mine practiced ballet as a child, and took it up again in her 30s. Another had rabbits as a child and is now breeding bunnies as a happy hobby. Maybe you loved sewing or playing the piano. It doesn’t matter what it was. If you want a little extra joy in your life, turn back time to when joy came much more easily. Before the weight of adulthood began to land on your shoulders. And try it again. It might be a little scary at first. The thought of falling on the ice is a lot more daunting to a middle-aged person, than to a young figure-skater or hockey player. But, take it from me, if you loved it then, you’ll love it now.
What brought you joy when you were a child? How can you make your way back to it? I would love to hear.