I once read that at the height of her fame and power (I’m talking 1991 Truth or Dare fame), Madonna used to fantasize about being a suburban housewife. Rather than performing, rather than traveling, rather than living her very glamorous life surrounded by very glamorous people, she liked the idea of staying home and baking cakes and movie nights and backyard BBQs.
When I was a corporate VP, I used to fantasize not about power or money or dream vacations. Instead, I dreamed about being a coffee barista. I thought it would be cool to show up at work, make some coffees, have a chit-chat with the odd customer or two, then finish my shift, and go home where I wouldn’t think about making coffee again until the next morning.
I have a CEO client who thinks it might be nice to live in small Greek village for the rest of her life, and another who would like to return to her high school job as a swimming instructor.
In fact, at some time or other, every single one of my clients has told me that they yearn for a simpler life. And easier life. A less stressful life. Or as one burned out client put it, “I just want some damn peace!!!!”
I hear you sister.
We all do.
Peace is nice. Peace is good. We all need a little peace from time to time.
But all the time? That would be boring. And frankly, impossible.
There will always be struggle. There will always be problems and vexation. There will always be annoying people and challenging bosses. There will always be more work than time and less money than needed. That’s life. And it’s inevitable.
So rather than sitting around waiting for a lasting peace that will never come (at least while we’re alive that is), what we really need is a boost. A shot in the arm you could say (as I write this in late 2020, we could all use a literal shot in the arm). We need to cultivate and practice the art of joyfulness – not some distant time in an elusive future, but right here and right now.
Now imagine this. You’re as busy as ever, but you’re enjoying it! You feel energized. You actually laugh! And, you’re more productive, more effective and more connected than you’ve been at any point in your career.
How is this possible?
Let’s start with the Art of Joy basics.
You have to Sleep
Sleep nourishes your brain. It helps you concentrate. It gives you energy so you don’t wind up mindlessly snacking in the middle of the afternoon. It keeps you from snapping at your spouse and your kids and your co-workers. A well-rested mind is better at solving problems, envisioning possibilities and generating the kind of witty one-liners that make everyone in the room fall a little in love with you. And, if all that isn't enough, it keeps wrinkles and eye bags at bay too.
You know all this. But yet, you don’t do anything about it.
It’s time to take some initiative my friend. There are endless resources for the sleep deprived – mobile apps, books, articles, videos. Do your homework. Make this a priority.
Because everything becomes easier when we’re getting enough sleep.
You have to Eat Well
I’m not a nutritionist, but I do know that I feel better when I have a salad for lunch. And I feel better when I don’t have too much sugar in my diet. And I feel better when I avoid fast food.
Chances are, you will too.
You have to Exercise
You know exercise burns calories and wards off all kinds of diseases, but did you know that regular aerobic exercise has been proven to be as effective as anti-depressants for easing symptoms of mild to moderate depression? Well it does.
Here’s another one. Did you know that yoga and other forms of stretching and bodywork can help you release shame, fear and other joy-killing negative emotions? It turns out that the body holds on to your emotions. It's within your power to liberate them.
So, it's kind of obvious. If you want to cultivate joy, you have to move your body.
Cultivate Your Own Consciousness
Let’s try a little experiment.
Take a full deep breath, all the way down into the belly.
Do it again.
Do it once again, this time focusing on the sensations of the breath entering your body and then exiting it. Do it again.
And this time, if you will, take a full deep breath without thinking a single thought. Just in, and then out, and then a pause after the out, all without thinking. Do it again.
Eckhart Tolle calls it “spaciousness”. Martha Beck (the woman who invented life coaching) calls it “wordlessness”. Buddhist nun Pema Chodron calls it “stillness”. Memoirist Glennon Doyle calls it “the knowing”. I call it surrender.
The thoughtless, spacious, wordless, still, knowing, surrender is critical to figuring out who we really are and what we really want to do. Only when we stop thinking can we start being.
And our chosen state of being can be joyful.
The practice of gratitude works because it shifts our attention from what is wrong in our lives to what is right in our lives. This disrupts our fight or flight response, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, and allowing us to feel calm and to achieve clarity. Now you can determine what’s really important in your life. And, who's important.
This is where joy is born.
Don’t take it from me. I’m just an amateur. Watch this amazing TED talk, my favorite of all time, on the beauty of gratitude. I've cued it up to the good part.
Now, not only do you have joy, but you also have a little peace to go with it.