What I Learned From 30 Days of Joy

One of my favorite joy habits is to do a new stop/start challenge every month.

It’s a simple idea that yields great benefits. At the beginning of every month, I pause to consider how I can stop something that isn’t serving me and start something that may be a positive alternative. These challenges are a way to get curious about things that are under my control (my behavior, my mindset, and my ways of being in the world) and playfully experiment with alternatives.

The focus of a stop/start challenge can be a behaviorsuch as:

  • stop using Facebook and start talking to real people in my life
  • stop watching news before bed and start reading a book
  • stop complaining and start expressing gratitude daily

Alternatively, what needs shifting may be a belief:

  • stop judging friends and family, start noticing when judgment arises
  • stop focusing on what doesn’t work, start appreciating what does
  • stop assuming negative intent, start giving others the benefit of the doubt

Or there might be a way of being that needs some adjusting like:

  • stop thinking all the time, start being fully present
  • stop wearing a mask, start getting real with people
  • stop self-isolating, start taking risks with other people

A Joy Challenge

Since my word of the year is JOY, I chose to kick off 2019 with the following stop/start challenge for January:

  • STOP thinking and reading about joy and
  • START noticing, documenting, and experiencing what joy feels like in my daily life. 

To make sure I actually did the challenge, I shared my observations on my personal Facebook page. At the end of the month, I had 27 posts and photos (I’m delightfully imperfect, so I missed a few days). And last week, I re-read the brief posts for fun and to remind myself what joy looked like during a month in my life that was quite challenging.

But as I read the posts, the part of my brain that conducted research for two decades saw them as data and started to analyze them for patterns. As the patterns emerged, they formed the answer to some powerful questions:

  1. What factors lead to joy in my life?
  2. What does joy look and feel like? and
  3. How can I get more joy into my life this year?

I realize I’m working with a sample-size of 1 here, so I will refrain from making generalizations. But sharing the 3 lessons I learned may be useful to you and/or encourage you to experiment with your own joy challenge.

1) Emotions Open The Door To Joy

When I analyzed my data, the clearest pattern was that some emotions predictably opened the door for joy in my life: 1) generosity, 2) gratitude, and 3) love.

I was not surprised that these emotions are intimately related to joy. But I didn’t realize that it didn’t matter if it was me feeling these powerful emotions or other people feeling them and directing them towards me. In other words, when I felt generous, grateful, and loving, my behavior flowed out of that well and I experienced joy. But I also experienced joy when I opened myself to receiving gifts from other people’s generosity, gratitude and love.

As it turned out, I received many gifts in the month of January: four flower bouquets, six thank you notes, and I even got randomly hugged by dudes carrying signs that said “you are good enough”. But sometimes the gifts weren’t physical objects (or hugs), they were in the responses of others to my mistakes.

For example, I’m a terrible cook even though I try my best in the kitchen. One night I tried to roast a whole chicken and when I went to move it to the carving board it went flying into the air. And when when that bird landed, it splattered juices everywhere. There was hot chicken juice all over our white cabinets, the floor, and my clothes. I screamed and then started crying because I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and angry all at the same time.

My husband heard the fracas from another room and came running into the kitchen to find me laying on the floor with the bird next to me. All I could say was: “I dropped the f***ing chicken!”

Without a pause he said, “I don’t care. I love you. And I’m still gonna eat that chicken!” He was so sweet about it, that I started crying harder. And in the midst of this hot mess, I felt a powerful flicker of joy. It came from knowing that my husband loves me unconditionally, there’s a solution to every problem, and a flying chicken isn’t the end of the world. I wasn’t expecting to find joy in the midst of tears and a splattered chicken but there it was. 

2) Celebrating Others Creates Contagious Joy

The most surprising pattern I discovered was that celebrating other people creates the kind of joy that is contagious. I had a number of opportunities to celebrate the accomplishments of other people in January and every time I did I noticed the following:

  • I experienced joy,
  • when I shared the story with others, I relived the joy, and
  • people hearing the stories lit up and became joyful.

The clearest example came at the tend of the month when I attended a book-launch-birthday-party for a 98-year old poet. He started writing in his 70’s and went on to teach poetry classes for two decades. As he read poems from the book, I moved through a wide range of feelings and responses from laughter to tears. And as he shared his work, surrounded by friends, family, and former students you could feel the collective joy in the room. It was a palpable wave that swelled as the evening progressed.

As moving as the reading was, I couldn’t help but notice what happened every time I talked about “the book-launch-birthday-party for a 98 year old poet). When I shared it on social media, the story sparked joy. When I told my mom about the party, she became joyful. And guess what broke out in my Uber when I told the driver where I was headed: Uber joy.

As I reviewed the data from my Joy Challenge, I noticed that it didn’t even matter who I was celebrating, or whether I was in their physical presence. I experienced joy celebrating a friend’s hard-won tenure decision. But there was also joy in watching the hug between new congresswomen Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids and the viral video of gymnast Katelyn Ohashi’s perfect 10 floor routine.

I didn’t have to know the person or be present in the moment. Simply observing the beauty of a moment, feeling the power embedded in it, and celebrating what it meant was enough to stir up joy.

3) Using My Gifts To Help Others IS Joy

When I analyzed my daily joy posts, one pattern was unmistakable: using my gifts and talents evoked joy. I’m a teacher and a mentor. That’s how I’m built, it’s what I do, and who I am as a human being. And working in that zone of genius creates the context for joy.

Whether it was individual mentoring calls, teaching on a podcast, connecting with a new community to deepen conversation, speaking with reporters about Pipeline Angels, mentoring entrepreneurs and leaders, or learning new things to expand the skills associated with my gifts, so much of my joy emerged from using my gifts to serve others.

It makes sense to me that positive feelings are closely associated with the use of my natural talents. I believe that we all arrive on earth with some form of genius that’s factory installed. So it’s no surprise to me that whenever I’m doing what I’m perfectly designed to do I feel happy, content, and deeply fulfilled.

But none of those are joy.

The new insight I gained from my data was that while using my gifts feels satisfying, it’s when I use them to support other people that joy breaks out. My current hypothesis is that it’s the combination of the two that creates the perfect environment for joy.

For me, pure joy is being fully and completely myself while focusing on helping others maximize their potential. That’s when I feel the joy of doing what I’ve been put on earth to do.

That’s when I AM joy.

Surprised By Joy

The biggest take away from my joy challenge is that — at least for me — joy is not an emotion, it’s a way of being in the world. And the more I can notice it, touch it, and feel it, the more it expands.

So I’m going to keep playing with joy as a way of being that I can grow into in this new chapter of life. And that means structuring my days in ways that will invite and encourage this deeper shift.

How about you?

What does joy look like in your daily life?

Are you ready for a joy challenge?

One Reply to “What I Learned From 30 Days of Joy”

  1. Love this! I totally agree! Joy is not an emotion — it’s a way of being!! I tracked my emotions for the month of January and the pattern I noticed is that most days were really good!! However, it’s amazing how one event or situation can take over and cast a negative view well beyond the time frame during which it occurred. The message to myself was to stop robbing myself of joy based on the one event when there are sooooo many other amazing things that happened over the course of a day. Focus on the amazing events instead and just “be!”

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