As children we have an incredible capacity for joy. But as we grow up and experience hardships, disappointments, and setbacks, we begin to lose touch with the joy we once experienced so easily. Joy becomes ever more elusive. Certainly, we are still able to experience moments of joy, but it gets harder and harder to find and hold on to. How can we find joy again when we’re just trying to get through each day?
For years I had a reputation of being joyful — always smiling, always cheerful. And for the most part, I really was. Of course I wasn’t always happy — certainly not at home when someone irritated me or made me angry. Not when I was afraid. Not when I was frustrated or exhausted.
But I definitely felt joyful most of the time.
Even through a year-long battle with cancer from 2018-2019, I was surprised to find my joy deepened.
I thought my joy was unshakable.
But then in 2020 something unexpected happened. Something I wasn’t prepared for. My joy eroded, bit by bit at first, and then like a landslide. A lot of people struggled with emotional issues when the pandemic started, and I was no exception. I remember one day, sitting on the couch talking to my husband about some hard stuff, and then just collapsing in sobs. Big, ugly heaving sobs. I confessed the dark thoughts I’d been having. I felt so lost and alone, even though I wasn’t.
I had no energy to talk to anyone, and so I withdrew from friendships and family except for a few people. I went to work every day, smiled, showed kindness, and even felt “happy” when I was there — but happiness is not necessarily joy. In my case, I was simply experiencing fleeting moments of happiness that were completely contingent on whatever was going on around me at that moment.
There were times I was honestly afraid I may never find that deep river of joy again.
That period in my life was a very dark time.
How can we find joy again when we don’t know where it’s gone?
Here’s the great news. I’ve begun to get my joy back. It began slowly at first, just a little trickle, but then the river began to fill again. It’s not a rushing river by any means. But the drought seems to be over. I’m experiencing joy in greater and greater measure.
And I’m not talking about moments of joy. I’m talking about the kind of joy that’s always present, bubbling inside like carbonation. The kind of joy that gives me strength even when I’m having a rough day. Joy that’s undergirding me, giving me the energy and ability to keep going when I’m tired and weary. Joy that helps me have a different perspective about whatever hard thing I may be going through.
I’ve learned that without joy, I am incredibly prone to depression. anxiety and hopelessness. When joy is lost, I wake in the middle of the night with dark, dark thoughts. Thoughts that lie to me and tell me there’s no way out, there’s no hope, things will never change, I will always feel like this — and I should give up trying.
Joy is important.
I’ve discovered some very important secrets about joy I want to share with you. And so I’ll be writing a lot about joy here and on Medium in the coming months.
And I’m working on several books about joy.
That’s where you come in. One of my books is going to be written with your help, dear readers.
We’re going to call this The Joy Project.
In the comments below, I want to hear from you. I want to hear your stories and thoughts about joy. Share with me your memories of joyful experiences you’ve had. Tell me about joyful periods in your life.
I want to know the things that brought you joy when you were a child.
Share with me the things that bring you joy now — the little things, especially. “Simple joys.”
Tell me about hard times you’ve been through where you discovered a surprising sense of joy carrying you through.
I want to hear about the source — or sources — of joy in your life. Where do you go when the river begins to run dry?
And maybe you can relate to what I shared about losing joy and going through an especially dark time. What did you do to claw your way back? What insights can you share about restoring joy when all seems lost?
I can’t wait to read and learn from you.