Choosing joy is more complicated than choosing a peanut butter.
Choosy Moms choose Jif. This is a clear directive. You know who you are, you know where to find the peanut butter. No mystery here.
Choose joy? Joy is an intangible commodity. Where do you find it? How, even, to look for it?
Joy is defined as “great delight or pleasure; elation.” Unfortunately, delight is not stocked on supermarket shelves (although I have been known to find a glimpse of delight in a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup, conveniently stocked near the check-out). If you could buy it, Wal-Mart would be buying it from a Chinese manufacturer and selling it at a low, low price.
If cultivating joy is like exercising regularly, as “Crazy Love” author Francis Chan espouses, here are my Top 10 ways to help me (and you) put our arms around this mystical, abstract stuff.
10 Ways Choosing Joy Is Like Running
1. Set goals and track your progress. My goal is to walk or run 20 miles a week. I write down my distance every day. I add it up at the end of the week. So, too, with joy. Decide you will be joyful, and you will find opportunities to be joyful. Record them. You could start a gratitude journal. My journal is my blog; I’ll admit not every entry is joy-related, but some are.
2. Begin. Some days I don’t want to run at all. But I put on my running gear anyway and do something. Usually, after the first mile and half, I’m willing to do more. Put your dreary attitude aside. Do something to feel better.
3. Be mindful. Sometimes I do 1-minute intervals when I run. I can do anything for a minute. I don’t have to run 10 minutes or 30 minutes or an hour — only one minute. I don’t think about the next minute — only that minute. A friend of mine shared this story after yesterday’s blog: “I stood in a long line at the grocery store service counter yesterday. I wanted to be frustrated like the others in line but caught myself saying out loud, ‘We spend our whole life waiting, and then we die — why fight it? Do you think those green daisy bunches over there are real?’ We laughed.” She choose to notice the joy in the moment instead of the junk. Most bad situations are not 100% bad. Stop and notice the good that exists in the present moment.
4. Distract yourself. If being mindful doesn’t work, try a distraction. I can have very lively conversations in my mind with people who might be driving me crazy when I’m on a run, and pretty soon, I’ve covered a mile. Or I listen to public radio or a baseball game during a run; while I’m concentrating on the interview or the inning, 20 minutes pass. I try not to focus on how achy or hungry or tired I am. If your situation sucks right now, find a distraction in a funny movie or an engaging book. Do not watch the evening news; it’s depressing to hear about crime and taxes and bad weather. Every time thoughts of your own sorrow invade your mind, banish them — literally or figuratively push them away. Do not dwell.
5. Immerse yourself in your senses. When I run, I feel my heart beat. I inhale deeply and smell the fresh air. I see the blooming tulips in the neighbor’s yard. Concentrate. Find joy by really really hearing the sound of a child’s voice, by truly tasting the sweetness in a single bite of chocolate.
6. Listen to music. Music is a great way to set a pace when you’re running. Uplifting music in all sorts of genres — classical, hard rock, Christian, jazz — can transport your mood. I like listening to music when I’m cleaning; I hate cleaning, but music helps make it better.
7. Pray. When I have a long list of people for whom to pray, I do it while I run. It’s sort of like a walking meditation. Bonus effect: I am thinking about other people’s problems instead of my own. If you’re the praying sort, ask for joy. Plead for healing. Beseech the Almighty.
8. Be active. Running is the definition of active. Activity can bring you to different places, forces you to pay attention to your body (instead of just your bad mood), makes you tired (so you sleep better rather than lay awake counting your problems). If you’re not joyful, you probably won’t find it by lying in bed or sitting on the couch.
9. Count your blessings. I can get a big thrill from running fast (for me) for a minute or a mile or up a hill. Maybe the run, on the whole, was sort of lame and pathetic, but there’s a success in that single part. Ditto for life. Rather than ruminate on the rubble, ponder on the prosperity.
10. Call your mother. I’ve taken many walks with my mother at my side or in my ear. If your mom brings you down rather than brings you up (or she’s no longer around), find someone else who cheers you. A good support system can bring joy even to a bad situation.
Got some other tips for grasping joy? Please share.