If thou of fortune be bereft,
and in thy store there be but left
two loaves, sell one, and with the
dole, buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.”
― John Greenleaf Whittier
Joy isn't an extra we can do without.
It's as vital to our well-being as food and shelter.
It wasn't just spending time with each other that we lost with the isolation of the pandemic and the upheavals of the last few years. It was also witnessing so much of what we knew and believed would always be there vanish before our eyes.
The ways we were accustomed to ordering our lives in order to meet our needs and find our joy stopped working. For me that meant losing the ability to see films in a theater, go to museums, treat myself to an inspired dinner out with friends, enjoy live music or theater, and travel.
Gradually, like the proverbial boiling frog, I became enured to a smaller, less joyful life. As I saw so much of what I loved disappearing I clung to the sense of loss and the belief that what replaced those things I loved would inevitably be worse.
The theater has always been a mainstay of joy for me. I love everything about it: the set design, the characters, the humor and pathos, the snappy dialog, and the superb acting by artists familiar and new. I even love the sense of occasion as the crowd files into the theater. And then it was gone.
I became accustomed to living without it. Then, when we were taking the first tentative steps out of the pandemic, I saw that a local theater company was screening a NTLive production. NTLive films the best of London theater so they can be enjoyed by a wider audience. I didn't know what it was going to be like but I decided to go.
It turned out that we had to sit on uncomfortable folding chairs in a shipyard but having the chance to see James McEvoy play Cyrano made me forget my surroundings. I remembered what it felt like to be filled with joy. It's true that the environment was not as good as what I was used to in the past but the joy was just the same.
Last night, I went to the symphony and I was disappointed to see that our conductor was going to be replaced by someone I didn't know. She walked onto the stage and everything about her from her skin-tight pants suit to her severe ponytail and bad-ass attitude let us know she was a new breed of conductor.
She looked like she would be more at home almost anywhere but the symphony stage. I felt myself going down a path of feeling everything that was familiar and good was lost....... and then she raised her baton. She was thrilling. Her gorgeous physicality was a joy to watch. Her energy, precision, and connection to the orchestra were clear evidence that the new could be every bit as joyful as the old.
In Portland Oregon, where I live, virtually all of my favorite restaurants closed under the weight of the double whammy of the pandemic and a labor crisis and they weren't coming back. It seems silly to say in the face of all the suffering we are seeing but it was a painful loss for me. I was reluctant to try the new places that were popping up for fear that they wouldn't measure up or that I would fall in love with a new place only to have it close.
Then I read that Jeffery Morganthaler, famed mixologist, opened a bar, Pacific Standard, in a hotel lobby just across the river. For the first time, I was excited about going out again. I convinced my intrepid friend Dianna to check it out with me. It took a minute to figure out that we needed to order our drinks at the bar. A young and very busy bartender let us know we were on his radar and that he'd be right with us. Enter Jeffrey himself. I shouldn't have been so surprised since it is his bar but there he was handsome, charming, and ready to make us a fabulous cocktail. He said with a wink, "ladies, come over here" pointing to his station a little further down the bar. And there, in front of our eyes, he made us the most wonderful cocktails. I'll admit, I was a little star-struck. It's now my go-to meet-up spot for getting together with friends and experiencing the joy of a great cocktail.
In order to allow this wonderful pop of joy into my world I had to let go of the places I loved in the past and give this new place a chance.
Reclaiming joy isn't as simple as picking up where we left off. It's accepting that the old world isn't coming back and finding a way to welcome the new one.
My unchallenged belief was that I wasn't going to like the new - the new restaurants, the new theater, the new conductor. Sometimes I didn't but mostly I was surprised by how fresh and fun the new thing was. I liked it.
I had been holding onto the past. My unwillingness to face forward and venture into the new kept me from the joy that was there for the taking.
Joy means something different for all of us. For me joy is a great cocktail made by Jeffery Morganthaler, finally seeing the Wilton Diptych in person at the National Gallery in London (I thought I was going to levitate), seeing Jeff Daniels play Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, or finding out how wrong I was about the unconventional conductor. I feel filled with gratitude that I live in a Universe where these things exist.
We can never give up on joy.
Are you claiming all the joy that's there for you?
Grab your journal and use these prompts to explore how you might reclaim your joy.
- What brings me joy? Really take some time not only to think about what brings you joy but also to remember the feelings of joy.
- What are some of the things I used to love but don't do anymore?
- What is one thing I would be willing to try to reclaim joy?
Now do it.