In her interview with Sheryl Sandberg, while speaking about the benefits of journaling, Oprah mentioned how she keeps stacks and stacks of notebooks that are her old joy journals. Notebooks filled with lovely things and experiences. This statement has impressed me profoundly. It’s not that Oprah’s life was rainbows and unicorns. She has trained herself to focus on beauty and hope. And the stacks of journals show it clearly.
Now, I don’t want to suggest that you and I will become Oprah only if we fill a bunch of notebooks with goodies. It is not that simple. But I would certainly like to suggest that you and I should do a better job of enjoying life in general.
Where is joy?
There is a lot of confusion about joy. We are obsessed with being entertained, comfortable, cozy, well-informed, well-rounded, sexy, good looking. We are obsessed with latest trends, gadgets, productivity, goal setting, hyper-connectedness. None of which necessarily produces joy. Deep down, we are all yearning for joy, but we are looking for it in many wrong places.
Our fast-paced, action-oriented, consumerist society has conditioned us to think that joy can be found only in action and consumption. Fancy cars. Fancy dinners. Fancy shoes. Fancy vacations. And sure enough, it probably can. But this way of thinking trains us to chase and run and never arrive at the destination. Because there is always another shiny thing. Even if what I have in front of me brings joy, I can’t help but think if there is more joy out there and I am missing out. As Ester Perrel says:
“Today people do not divorce because they are unhappy, but because they think they could be happier.”
This way of thinking is highly desirable for all kinds of corporate businesses, but for us, it is detrimental and soul-crushing. It leaves us with a vast hole that can never be closed.
In this post, I would like to offer some tools that will help you be in control of your own joy. They will enable you to enjoy more, on a regular basis and create a sustained joy that does not depend on new, shiny objects. All that is required of you is to slow down (see the post below for more info on benefits of slowing down) and be willing to see things differently.
How to get rid of bad habits? Learn to slow down.
Otherwise, you are just dealing with consequences rather than causes.
Each experience consists of three parts: anticipation, action, and contemplation. As you can imagine, we are completely action-oriented, which leads us to regularly neglect the other two phases, both of which contain a lot of potential for joy. Let’s go phase by phase and explain how to get the best out of it.
Technological boom has created many consequences on the ways we function. Arguably, the most important one is the reinforcement of instant gratification. When we can’t remember something, we google it. When we’re looking for a certain place, we turn on the navigation. When something happens to us, we tweet about it and instantly see what people think. When we like the TV show, we don’t have to wait for the next episode, we can binge watch it. When we don’t like our prospective date, we just swipe left on Tinder and look for another one. Overnight shipping, 2-click ordering, Apple Pay, there is no shortage of services that enable us to get what we want easily and at the speed of light.
All of these benefits of the 21st century make life more convenient and (seemingly) more efficient. But they make us addicted to the notion that all of our desires have to be fulfilled at this very moment. We have lost the sense of anticipation, longing, desire, daydreaming, expecting. We are just getting new toys, playing with them briefly, dismissing them, and looking for the new ones. And we’re wondering where did the joy go and whether the new shiny object will finally make us joyful.
Try to prolong and intensify the anticipation period. It contains a lot of hidden joy. If you are planning a trip, let yourself anticipate and daydream about it. Look at the photos and listen to the music from the place you will be traveling to. Let yourself savor the experience before it is even happening.
If you want a new book, don’t order it right now. Let yourself anticipate. Look at the book cover. Read a few reviews. Listen to an interview or two with the author. Wait until your reading list opens up a bit. Then order the book and let yourself enjoy it.
If you prepare yourself a nice healthy lunch, let yourself happily anticipate it. Think about where the ingredients came from. Feel gratitude for being able to eat healthily. Let yourself look forward to your nice meal. If you slow down and choose to be thoughtful, each experience can be savored and enjoyed a lot before it even happens.
The action is the part we are all typically conditioned to enjoy. That is the central part, the actual experience. How to make the most out of it? Be present. Be there. Tune into your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch? What is happening right in front of you? Give yourself time and space to immerse, don’t just think about how to make a good Instagram photo out of it. Even if you eat the fanciest lunch from a five-star restaurant in front of your laptop, while responding the emails, it will taste insipid.
In Thrive, Arianna Huffington retells the experience of her daughter, who got a task in the art class to look into one painting for 2 hours and write about the experience. She concluded that the experience was thrilling and sad at the same time: thrilling because she was able to see the painting completely, but sad because she has realized that she has observed the art superficially her entire life.
This is a powerful reminder to all of us to stop racing through the life because we will miss out on everything. What is the point of all the hustle if you never really see a gorgeous flower, beautiful landscape, a piece of art, or the person that stands right in front of you? What is the point accomplishing anything, if you don’t learn how to enjoy it?
When the experience is over, the final step is the contemplation. We are taking bajillions of photos but we rarely go back to look at them and revoke our memories. We were advised not to look back into the past, but if we don’t do it, we will be condemned to repeat it until we learn our lessons.
Don’t be afraid to go back to your old experiences. Savor them in retrospect. Think about how they have changed you, how you grew through them and became who you are. Think about how you could have done things differently, but not from the standpoint of regret. Use your past experiences as useful data points.
Revoke a smell of coffee, a taste of fruit, a texture of sand on your skin. Let yourself enjoy the past experience once again.
In his TED talk, Pico Iyer, travel writer, says:
“One of the first things that you learn when you travel is that nowhere is magical unless you can bring the right eyes. You bring the angry man to the Himalayas and he starts complaining about the food. And I found that the best way that I could develop more attentive and more appreciative eyes was, oddly, by going nowhere, just by sitting still… it was also the only way I could find to sift through the slideshow of my experiences and make sense of the future and the past… More than 2000 years ago stoics were reminding us: it’s not our experiences that make our lives, it’s what we do with them. Twenty-four years ago I took the most mind-bending trip to North Korea. But the trip lasted a few days. What I’ve done with it sitting still, going back to it in my head, trying to understand it, trying to find a place for it in my head, thinking, that has lasted 24 years already and will probably last a lifetime.”
Going nowhere is just as exciting as going anywhere, claims Pico. He became the master of savoring the contemplating part of the experience, which is a powerful lesson for all of us. Life has to be lived forward, but can only be understood backward, said Soren Kierkegaard. However, a joy can be found in both directions.
Joy is hidden in our minds. In slowing down. In letting things unfold. In being present. In being conscious. In action. In thinking and contemplation. Joy can be found in pleasant situations, but also in uncomfortable ones. Joy is hidden in our perspective, perception and in the way we choose to move through this world. Don’t live unconsciously, choose to be thoughtful and let yourself experience different types joy: the joy of anticipation, the joy of action and the joy of contemplation. In doing so, you will get the most out of your life experiences and welcome in more joy.
Before you go
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