What Brings You Joy?
I’ve been asking myself this question a LOT lately. Perhaps, getting older, and making a significant life change triggers a winnowing process. I’m a big believer in having a full life, but also I’m becoming a devoted believer in the importance of “editing” the contents of one’s life, and the benefits of traveling “light”.
This post may seem like it’s coming completely out of left field, especially on the heels of a post about the logistics of buying a house in Italy. Yet, I’m afraid I would be doing a disservice to my followers and to people contemplating a similar life change if I only spoke to the mechanics of such a move, and if I didn’t share how the journey affects me personally.
My partner and I have just moved to the Veneto, so I’m certain the packing and unpacking have been prompting reflection on what brings me joy. Also, I’ve been slowly reading and absorbing the words of Marie Kondo, in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I say “slowly reading” because something inside me recognizes an essential truth – one that could lead to adopting a significant shift in how I approach what to keep in my life (and I’m not just talking about material “stuff”). The zinger for me has been how Marie Kondo reframes how a person might approach the process of editing and creating space in one’s life. Instead of approaching the task with metaphorical pruning shears, she urges her readers to look at the individual contents of their lives and ask “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is “yes”, you keep it, if not, say “farewell”.
I highly recommend Marie Kondo’s book, if only to consider a different perspective on how you value the contents of your life. While Ms. Kondo focuses primarily on one’s personal space, I believe her philosophy has merit well beyond – into the experiences and relationships of your life.
In the past, having a full life has meant having loads of “stuff”, loads of choices, and having a full schedule. What I realize is that I haven’t been adept at creating the kind of spaciousness in my life that allows me to appreciate the treasures in my life. How is this realization translating into my day-to-day life? Aside from committing to a thorough review and editing of the material possessions that don’t spark joy I have:
- Realized and embraced the value of rest – sleep and down time. If you’re in doubt about the power of sleep, Dr. James Maas, world-renowned sleep expert, might help open your eyes about the power of closing your eyes. As for down-time, for me, this can include exercise, meditation – anything that allows my mind to disconnect from constant chatter and engagement. This also includes prying my attention away from needing so much of a digital “fix”.
- Realized that nurturing relationships with close friends and family enhance my spirit and provide fuel for my life overall. This is a biggie for me, especially since I was trained, in my Southern upbringing, to be the nice boy, and to make everyone happy. Only recently have I been courageous enough to surround myself with the people who feed my soul (and vice versa), and who hold me in a space of acceptance, without judgment, when I am not at my best. This doesn’t mean I need to reject or judge people who don’t fit this criteria. I simply let them be, while choosing to not to engage with them.
- Let life reveal joy to me, rather than fixedly insisting on conditioned ideas of joy. I freely admit this is the hardest for me, and I feel as though constantly I am having to rouse myself from a slumber of old ideas. How does a conscious thinking and analyzing mind accept its own limitations in this regard, while simultaneously residing in a place of openness and a relinquishing of a need to always know the answers. I now realize, when I moved to Italy, I was trying to live a script I had already drafted, rather than letting this new life unfold. Fortunately, once I began settling in, life taught me to start loosening my vice-like grip on my need for things to go to a preconceived plan. This came with a bit of kicking and screaming, but now I can smile at myself, and my folly.
- Let my art lead me to play and explore. A recent online test confirmed what a test told me years ago. I’m pretty much a fifty-fifty balance of right and left brain (thanks to my artist mother and my nuclear engineer dad). While my left brain has served me well, it often keeps me in the hamster wheel of ruminating and worrying – cutting me off from the expansiveness of my right brain and creativity. This juncture in life has brought me the unique opportunity to dive more into the rich, deep pool of creativity. When I am immersed in that space, everything seems to relax, and the dimensions of my world expand.
By writing this post, I do not mean to imply that what brings you joy is a one-size-fits all. But, I do believe each person benefits from an internal quietude where they can ponder the answers to “What brings me joy?” This isn’t easy, for most of us, because there still is an army of voices insisting that it, and only it, has all the answers. Don’t be fooled. Instead, let your soul tell you what makes it sing, and go from there.