Quick, picture a moment of joy. If your mental picture is anything like a google search, odds are it is children doing something that brings great joy. Playing with a sparkler, holding a bunch of balloons, or something else filled with childhood joy. It’s seen as some kind of right of passage to give up on those things that brought us joy as a sign of our maturity. For me, part of feeling like I’m really adulting has been cultivating a discipline of joy. A practical plan for bringing that childlike joy back into my life.
I’ve been doing it so long, I didn’t realize it was something extraordinary. Until, in a workshop last week, I said something about my discipline of joy. I watched as many people sitting in the circle grabbed a pen to write down that phrase. And in their reflections talked about how it made them really think.
Cultivating a Discipline of Joy
What does it mean to have a discipline of joy? Having discipline means being trained to obey rules or a code of behavior. If you look it up in the dictionary, the definition finishes with “using punishment to correct disobedience.” Because of this last part, humans tend to think about discipline as something to apply for parts of our lives we don’t enjoy. The discipline of eating healthy (when it feels like a sacrifice). Or the discipline of exercise (when it doesn’t feel enjoyable to do, we tell ourselves we enjoy the results). Perhaps you apply this concept of discipline to cleaning your home, managing your money, or other “grown up responsibilities”. Sound familiar?
But what about a discipline of joy? For me, discipline is about having a practice that makes my life better somehow. And joy is something that definitely makes my life better. So, in addition to healthy eating, exercise, money management, having a clean home, and all the other disciplines that benefit my life, I absolutely focus on a discipline of joy.
It all started with a bouquet of flowers
I’m pretty passionate about local food and food security. That means you’ll find me at the local farmers’ market just about every Saturday morning. I take great pleasure in having relationships with the people who grow my food, delight in discovering what new bounty is arriving each week of the growing season, and savor the experience of enjoying the energy farmers’ markets have to offer.
A long time ago, shortly after my marriage ended, I was having a day where I wasn’t enjoying the market. It felt like a chore. My energy was out of balance. I just wanted to go home. The booth closest to the exit was a florist. There was $10 left in my pocket and there was a sign in front of the flowers that said 3 bunches/$10.
The immediate thought in my head after I read that sign was: “don’t waste money on flowers.” The very next thought was: “Whoa! Wasting money? Nah, girl. You’re getting those flowers.” I pulled that $10 bill out of my pocket, chose 3 beautiful bunches, and walked to my car carrying them like I was Miss America accepting her bouquet of roses and walking down the runway.
As I trimmed and arranged those flowers, putting some in my bedroom and some in my office, I realized that I they had brought me a level of joy I hadn’t experienced in a long time. A commitment was made in that moment to start finding ways to cultivate a discipline of joy. For the rest of my life, I wanted to live the kind of life where I could always remember my last moment of joy and where I could always see the next one on the horizon.
What Came Next
All these years later, I still make my weekly flower purchase. These days, it’s flowers for every room of my home. No matter where I am (even while I’m brushing my teeth), there are flowers easily in my view.
From that first bouquet to now, my discipline of joy has grown. None of it is revolutionary, but it’s all intentional. Exploring different kinds of music, cooking every meal so it is beautiful and delicious (and usually healthy), making time to spend with friends regularly, discovering new natural areas to enjoy, the list goes on and on. I make sure I experience joy every single day. It took time to develop this practice. It had to start with first reconnecting with what brings me joy. And then figuring out how to continually be adding opportunities for joy into my life. Like any new discipline, it’s been a slow and dedicated practice so that I could build it successfully and continue to sustain it.
Joy and Genuine Contact
For me, my discipline of joy is one way I practice being in genuine contact with self. Genuine contact with self is about being authentic, open, and honest. It’s also about reconnecting with your inner self, and my inner self loves joy.
The discipline of joy is also a way I practice being in genuine contact with another, collective, and creation. It creates opportunities for getting together with others, for moments of laughter, and play.
In some ways, my discipline of joy is also a discipline of deepening genuine contact. And isn’t that what life is all about?