Actively Seeking Joy as a Patriotic Habit
A Refreshing Dose of Friendship Intimacy
I had a refreshingly intimate conversation with a woman who was born in the Middle East and is now raising her family in the United States. While we’ve spoken before this occasion, those conversations were brief and focused on work. This discussion, while still initiated by work-related topics, delved into our personal lives and allowed a human connection that can so often be missed opportunities. Personal details and insight were lifted up and into the conversation by each party, neither prying into deeper levels than the other voluntarily gifted to the conversation. I was reminded that so often when we lead by example, like with her sharing first personal information, others are more likely to follow, as I did in reciprocating and sharing. By actively seeking joy and engagement with another human being, we found a deeper connection in the experience and formed tighter bonds as colleagues.
We are both women and mothers in a world that can seem strange sometimes, and this part of the world may be more strange to her since it is not her native culture. She shared with me how her home culture was so welcoming of strangers even off the street to come into a home and share with the family of what they had. This welcoming and sharing with strangers before knowing people is not something that occurs as the norm here. I am not necessarily advocating for this level of invitation with people we do not know, but there are messages of welcome and community that we offer to strangers that form a base level of community and culture.
Actively Seeking Joy and Openness as a Way of Life
I believe that we have no choice but to be open and joyful as a way of life. I read recently that Maya Angelou decried cynicism among youth, “There is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing” (found on Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings). Skepticism can be healthy, but cynicism should be seen as a sickness and a sign for us to attend to ourselves. We must not just find joy in the small moments but actively seek the beauty and joy as a part of our daily existence. By finding that beauty and giving ourselves full permission to revel in it, we can become happier ourselves, provide an example of good living to our children, and create a more positive culture.
I recently walked through an airport wearing a Santa hat and a green holiday shirt with a penguin and lights on it. The holiday lights on it flashed on and off by means of a battery attached to the shirt. While I received a few funny looks, I made no one mad and I made several people smile, including myself. I was going to a holiday party in a few hours, so there was a reason for the outfit beyond just being weird. But, I could have changed into this just before the party. Instead, I chose to wear it sooner and see if I could share the joy. Spreading happiness enriched my day, and hopefully it enriched someone else’s just a bit as well.
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about finding joy and reveling particularly in the artist element of life. She tells of a man in India who painted his sole valuable possession, an ox, pink and turquoise for no other reason than to celebrate the ox (p.157). This man owned little but found great happiness in the ox and shared that happiness with the world.
Creative Joy Makes Parenting Easier
Later, Gilbert writes, “I firmly believe that we all need to find something to do in our lives that stops us from eating the couch. Whether we make a profession out of it or not, we all need an activity that is beyond the mundane and that takes us out of our established and limiting roles in society (mother, employee, neighbor, brother, boss, etc.). We all need something that helps us to forget ourselves for a while…” (p.172).
I am fortunate that I can utilize time with my daughter in this creative endeavor. Just playing, losing myself in dancing with her, making up silly songs, and doing crafts with her exercises my creativity as child at heart and as someone for whom writing is important, even if it is simply in the moment playing the role of a writer of ridiculously terrible made-up-on-the-spot versions of song (“Here comes Gwennie Claus. Here comes Gwennie Claus, right down silly goose lane”).
Reveling in childish activities isn’t for everyone, but if you can indulge and find that bit of happiness in it even as you attend to necessary duties as a caretaker, it can help keep you sane, keep you from checking the clock and thinking of all of the to-do’s, the things you ‘should’ be doing rather than ‘wasting time’ playing. Because childhood play is far from a waste of time but an opportunity of critical skill-building.
Positively Engaging is Patriotic, Human
The emotional connections that are possible in these periods of opening ourselves up to possibility make this lowering of our defenses not just a recommendation but a necessity. We owe it to our fellow humans to reach out, meet each others’ eyes, smile, and engage with one another in a meaningful way, whether we are adult, child, rich, poor, foreign, or native. In a way, I consider it patriotic of humanity to be a little silly sometimes, and I believe that our communities and world could be so much better if we could find a few more moments each of us to share a little joy.
For a bit more positivity in your days, check these out:
4amshower (web comic)
Upworthy (aggregates positive news articles)
Lunar Baboon (web comic)