• Ava Hoffman

a joy library

It feels funny to be writing a piece about joy when I’ve been struggling to find it recently. Between hard relationships, transitioning community, medical burnout and trauma, and still overwhelming fatigue…light has seemed dim and joy far away.


This was a good exercise for me, friend.


Perhaps it will be encouraging and helpful for you, too.

 

Libraries are organized by collections. Those collections are gathered materials, accumulated in one place, for a specific purpose. The children’s collection is for entertainment, enjoyment, and education. The history section for study. The art collection is divided into categories – painting, photography, film, etc.


We can create these collections in our own lives, too! Some of us have rock collections, an actual library of books, or an organized shelf displaying our collection of African art. We also accumulate collections of junk mail, old clothing, and extra buttons that come with new clothes.


Our collections and libraries are reflections of our lives.


They reflect what we value. They are tangible reminders of what we seek out and what we treasure. For example, each time I travel to a new place, I find a rock to remind me of the memories made in that place. Each rock (and the photo collection accompanying it) carries memories. Tangible memories. I can return to those over and over, and so can other people.

It is part of the library of my life. Gathered materials for the purpose of remembrance, reflection, and reminding. It’s a legacy.


And I desperately want joy to be a part of that for me.

 

The ancient Greek word for joy is chara. It means to rejoice. Be glad. Delight, mirth, triumph. It involves gladness, shouting, singing, and leaping. Pleasure, affection, cheerfulness. Anything that causes or gives an occasion for joy.


Here’s the thing with this word – it isn’t connected to circumstances. Gives an occasion for joy. That phrase captured my attention. The occasion is not the joyful thing. Anything can give an occasion for joy meaning I can (and should) find delight in all things and be joyful in all circumstances.


It caused me to reflect on my own circumstances.


They aren’t great. Life is hard. It doesn’t look how I thought it would or how I want it to. I find myself mourning a lot. Missing a lot. I’m often angry at how unfair the world is. I’m often disgusted with the ableism of this world – how disregarded my own life is. The loneliness is often overwhelming. The isolation sometimes suffocating. I miss what I had dreamed.


It was in that place I started looking into joy.


I learned about humankind’s inherent negativity bias. Our genetic wiring contains an ancient survival mechanism of our ancestors that causes our brains to register negative experiences more strongly than the positive ones.


Makes sense biologically and anthropologically. I also see it experientially. When I look at my life, I see the hard and negative first. I am more inclined to see the trials of my past rather than the gladness of it. The difficult circumstances overshadow the glorious wonderment.


And it occurred to me.


Perhaps finding joy is as simple as noticing what is not wrong.

 

I’ve been pursuing the middle of life recently. In all areas. Politically, medically, theologically, emotionally. I’m really loving the middle. I’ll tell you more one day 😊


I reasoned that when it comes to joy, perhaps there is a middle there, too.


I’ve always associated jubilation with milestones. Perfect blood sugar, an acceptable A1C, remission, normal blood work, graduations, a certain field of work and a salary, self-sufficiency, owning a home, marriage, buying a car, having a child, picture-perfect relationships.


If those milestones are absent, though…it’s disappointment, anger, frustration, failure, defeat, setbacks, misfortune, and all out calamity.


I was swinging wildly between the two – gladness and misery, and the anguish has been far more present.


Not at peace with that state of living, I sought the middle, and found something unexpected.


Contentment.


The neutrality of the mundane.


A savoring of the nooks and crannies in the daily.


It was a joy in the routine. Small, unassuming, and disarming. It was accessible regardless of what my day looked like. It was a breath of fresh air, discovering a whisker in the carpet, and a highlighted meal plan.


I intentionally began to look for what was not wrong.


The sun rose. My alarm went off when it was supposed to. I woke up. My tongue is in my mouth. Birds are returning from their Southern wintering. The light switches flood my space, enabling sight. The tea kettle boils and whistles. My laptop turned on. The screen on my phone still works. Squirrels are digging up my flower-pots. The cat seeks the sunshine.


These are not thrilling experiences. Paying attention to them encourages an appreciation and gratitude for all that is right in the world, though. It coaxes small moments of joy into my awareness, and it creates a positive feedback loop.


I began to see that joy does not mean putting on a smiley face and being positive no matter what’s going on. I don’t have to ignore my reality or pretend things are wonderful when the world is really falling apart.
 

The word “trigger” is used often these days, and usually in a negative sense. A trigger is something that serves as a stimulus, initiating a reaction or series of reactions. This means triggers can also precipitate good and happy reactions, too!


While I cannot change my environment nor the state of the world, I can infuse joy into my life with triggers!


I began to pay attention to what triggered authentic and unexpected joy in my life.


Sunshine. Reading a novel. Certain music. Dreaming. Being present. People. Mail. A successful new recipe. My favorite sneakers. When I see healing from past wounds.


I collected these moments. Writing them down and filing them away for another day. The more delight I was noticing and collecting, the easier it was to see. To feel.

Gratitude was easier to express. Hope blossomed. Accepting help was more natural. Seeing the beauty in others became usual. Delighting in the joy of others was instinctive. Speaking it over others became ingrained in my conversational pattern.


My collection of joy grew into a full library. Holistic and all-encompassing. Categorized into what brings me mental peace, physical pleasure, emotional rest, and spiritual quietude. It’s volumes of traditional self-care methods backed up with personal experience and the occasional clinical article.


And that’s how we arrived here.

 

Knowing where to start on a joy-journey can be overwhelming. Mine was. These are a few down-to-earth practices we can implement in our weeks that can both prepare us to receive joy and trigger joy. Most of them don’t require financial resources, either!


MEDITATE

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Meditation simply means to “engage in thought or contemplation; reflect.” It’s a practice of being quiet, remaining still, and engaging in purposeful introspection. It is often a spiritual discipline, though it doesn’t have to be done in connection with religious practices.


It is a method of grounding, focusing us on the present. Research shows us meditation decreases activity in the areas of the brain connected to negativity, anxiety, and depression. At the same time, it increases brain activity in areas associated with joy, contentment, and peace. It strengthens the areas of the brain in charge of managing emotions and controlling attention.


Focusing on the present is a game-changer in the search for joy, and meditation is a great way to orient our minds that direction.


EXERCISE

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We hear this all the time, but movement is POWERFUL!


Studies show exercise naturally promotes neural growth, reduces inflammation, and stimulates feelings of calm and well-being. As endorphins are released, muscles relax and body tension is relieved. This can help with headaches and a sore neck and shoulders.

Movement also immediately boosts dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels. This sharpens our focus and our attention. Combining exercise and mindfulness stabilizes our nervous system, helping us move out of any immobilization stress responses. It also helps us build resilience and cope in healthy ways.


When our bodies feel better, so does our mind!


And when our bodies and minds are connected and functioning together, joy is easier to see and feel. Gratitude is more available to embrace, too.


I also want to mention – movement does not mean you have to join a gym or spend an hour running. Lord knows I am not capable of either of those things!

Listen to your body as you move. Start slow with 5-10 minutes. Commit to those few minutes most days.


And if you have more energy, don’t let a busy schedule deter you. A study out of the UK found that cramming a couple moderate movement sessions in over your weekend delivers the same benefits!


SUNSHINE

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Despite all the negative press the sun gets, sunlight is one of the most effective medicines we have access to and buying vitamin D at the store ain’t the same thing! Studies show sunshine is both healing and beneficial for our bodies.


The unfiltered rays of the sun promote anti-inflammation mechanisms in our bodies. It modulates cell growth and increases our serotonin. Serotonin and melatonin work together, so sun exposure can also benefit our sleep cycles!


A BYU study found that sun exposure was correlated with positive mental health. No sun is linked to more mental health distress. Sunshine prevents and reduces symptoms of both depression and anxiety.


It’s a “happy booster.”


Take a five minute break and go find the sunshine, friend! You will feel better.


READ A BOOK

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I know we aren’t all readers, but hang with me on this one!


Any book in every genre is shown to support our mental health and reduce stress by 70%. Reading is a more effective stress-relief technique than drinking tea, listening to music, or doing yoga!


Joy is often found when we can focus on things beyond ourselves. Reading is a crash course in that. It improves our memory skills, creates better conversational skills which leads to improved ability to communicate. Reading is shown to increase emotional intelligence and empathy.


All of these things enable us to connect better with those around us. Connection is linked to joy.


MUSIC

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We have all probably experienced the power of music as a mood changer. I often use it to motivate me, keep me company, focus my writing, and burn off energy. It’s comforting, invigorating, and inspiring.


Music also acts as a medium for processing emotions, grief, and trauma. It’s an outlet that can aid in our healing and mourning processes. As the notes engage the neocortex of our brain, we become calm and self-regulate.


It allows us to regulate our emotions, processing in healthy ways. It can even help us invite others into those really big feelings and hard places.


While that doesn’t sound like an avenue to joy, healing is absolutely one way we can experience more joy. Clearing our hearts and minds of toxic junk leaves more space to experience the good our world has.


And of course, we all have songs that we just have to dance to, and that friends, is pure joy!


DREAM [big]

Click here for references.


To be clear, we’re talking about daydreaming. Planning. Setting goals and imagining what the future could hold.


Dreaming in this way is so good for us holistically! It’s widespread brain activity generating rich content. It’s connecting our past, present, and future. It strengthens our identity and our relationships. It helps us wonder about other people, seek to understand, and grow our capacity to care.


Big dreams boost motivation, inspire creativity, and improve our focus. It’s “thinking for pleasure.” A roaming mind can reduce stress, spice up our mundane chores, and provide a level of self-accountability.


Brushing your teeth? Dream a little. Showering? Let your mind wander. Feel the joy of imagining and wondering and creating!


creating your own JOY LIBRARY

BE PRESENT

When we are experiencing feelings of depression and anxiety, we tend to be stuck in one of two cycles – dwelling on something negative from the past or worrying about something in the future. In either situation, we are focused on things we cannot control.


But when we focus on the here-and-now, we experience a more centered feeling. Peace pervades our soul and joy is more readily felt. We have the ability to notice who is around us, what is around us, and how we are feeling.


Being focused presently allows us to notice both the good things happening around us and the things that simply are not wrong.

 

There are so many ways we can experience gratitude, joy, and peace in the mundane moments and in the grand celebrations.


Joy is not reserved for a specific set of circumstances, friend.


Start small. Start in your daily routine.

Start by taking in your neutral mundane.

Create your own joy library, friend.



Life is brighter, more tolerable, and more hopeful with joy sprinkled over it ❤

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