3 November 2014

Making joy

Life throws some crappy crap at us, doesn't it?

It just does. Some of the hard times that come our way are the result of our own poor choices or mistakes. But sometimes horrid things just happen, because it's part of life and we have no control over it. Either way, it sucks to go through.

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I've had my share of hard times and trials and valleys of sorrow. I could lay out a timeline of my life showing the points along the way, far too closely spaced for my liking (and starting when I was 3 and lost a sibling), of loss, sorrow, grief, stress, upheaval, family strife, financial distress, health problems, depression, anxiety, etc. But I won't.

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Suffice to say, life isn't fair. It can be filled with trials and hard times. And sometimes, when things look particularly bleak, these low points can be the only thing you see. The only thing that life seems to consist of, one after the other. And the sad truth is, they are going to keep happening, because that's part of life.

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I was thinking about this the other day and realising that in all things there must be balance. So the hard times need to be balanced with joyful times or else they can take over. And by balance, I mean the amount of joy needs to at least equal the amount of pain, and it wouldn't hurt my feelings if it outweighed it ;)

BUT the joy doesn't just happen, not the way bad things sometimes happen! Well, sometimes it does, but not as frequently.

That was a key insight for me. To realise that to balance the bad we need to have the good, but that the good doesn't just happen by itself - it is up to us to create it. We have to make joy.

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Now, how do you do this? That's the big question that I've been thinking about a lot lately. And these are some of my thoughts.

The word "ennoble" means "give (someone) a noble rank or title" and "lend greater dignity or nobility of character to". The prefix "en-" before "noble" means to make noble.

So surely "enjoy" means "to make, give, or lend joy". So there's a clue there.

One of the ways to make joy in your life is to enjoy things. And by that I mean appreciate them and feel grateful for them.

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The sunset is going to happen whether or not you stop to enjoy it; in other words, whether or not you choose to take joy from it. God bestows gifts all the time and it's up to us to receive them.

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Whether you are religious or not, you can't deny that there is beauty all around in the form of nature. Flowers bloom whether or not you stop to smell them, trees glow afire as their leaves change whether or not you pause to admire them, even winter's barrenness reveals its own quiet splendour if you look for it. It's there for the appreciating. Look for the beauty and take the time to appreciate it and find joy in it. Let it settle into your soul and add to the balance of joy.

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There are so many things beyond the world of nature to enjoy and appreciate all of the time, big and small. It's the mindful focus that makes them special and that creates the joy. Be aware of how lucky you are to have certain relationships in your life. Take pleasure in the new shoes that you have purchased. Savour the delicious ice cream cone on a hot day. Revel in the warmth of your cosy bed on a cold winter morning. Really be in the moment as you enjoy a hobby or even the task of caring for your home.

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It's not about the subject of your appreciation, it's about taking the time and making the effort to really appreciate it, enjoy it, take pleasure from it. Milk it for all it's worth.

Make everything special. If you need a new notebook, take the time to choose one that makes you smile. If a polka dot umbrella would make you happy, select that one rather than a serviceable black. Drink your water out of cut crystal, if it makes you feel fancy. Treat yourself with the little things and they become the big things - a way of celebrating your daily life.

If you enjoy spending time with certain people, and feel better for it, make a point of scheduling get-togethers with them. Create the joy as you go.

If it makes you happy, then heck yeah, put more of it into your life!

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There is always something to be grateful for. Always. Even in the darkest times, there will be something for which you can give thanks.

My kids often hear me saying to them, "You can focus on the doughnut, or focus on the hole - you have both in your hand." They can spend too much time wishing for things that they don't have, and too little time appreciating the things that they do. We all do it.

I was thinking about the things that, in the past, I wished and longed and hoped and prayed for. Things I so desperately desired - things that I now have. I was lucky enough to meet my precious husband when we were both young, so I didn't have to wait for that blessing, but we were not able to start a family when we wanted. It wasn't a particularly long wait, but when you don't know how long it's going to be, when you're in the thick of it, it's a worry. When you're longing to receive but not being made to wait, you feel that want so keenly. But we have since been blessed with not one but two amazing children, who are healthy and whole.

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We spent two years trying to come to New Zealand, dreaming of a new life here, and you'd better believe that I will never take for granted that our dreams came true. I still pinch myself - I'm so grateful that I get to live here. It's what we wanted so badly and now we have it.

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I spent the majority of last year too sick to do much of anything, bedridden for weeks at a time, wishing I could just be well enough to live my life and look after my family. And now I have come so far that, although I still struggle with health issues, I can be active, go places with my family, look after my home, spend time with friends, make things, do things, enjoy things. It's easy to look ahead and see how far I have to go to be where I'd like to be, but so much more rewarding to look back and see how far I've come. It's not the wanting that brings joy, it's the gratitude, and it's up to me to choose on which I spend more time.

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I don't want to be the kind of person who is never satisfied, who gets what they want and goes, "Got that. Next!" I'd rather be the kind of person who claims a long-awaited blessing and feels and shows gratitude for it, and takes joy from it. There are plenty things that I have wanted that I haven't received. I'm so grateful for the things that I have.

Some think that feeling and showing and gratitude for what you have received benefits the giver, but oh, how it benefits the recipient so much more! Being grateful creates joy. And who doesn't want a little more joy in their life?

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You know what else would give me joy? Seeing you make joy in your own life.

Please share your Instagram photos with the hashtag #makingjoy and tag me @jenthousandwords, or on Twitter @jenthousandword (couldn't fit the S on the end!) so I can see how you are making joy. And look out for my own photos on Instagram with #makingjoy

Update: This video illustrates exactly what this post is about.

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