Updated: Sep 19, 2020
In the past several weeks, I have gone through the range of emotions – grief, anger, sadness, anxiety. It’s hard not to when witnessing the deaths of unarmed black men and women, the lack of justice served for the many before them, and seeing the world start to wake up to a serious issue in our society.
And yet, I still must find my joy. Coming from a group of people who have been oppressed for centuries, being joyful feels like a rebellious act in the face of anyone who thinks I might not have a right to that joy (or right to many other things) because of my dark skin.
Not only have I been intentionally carving out moments of joy in spite of the hard emotions may of us are moving through, I realized my spirit is a container than can hold both joy and sadness/anger/grief/anxiety, that joy is one of many tools that are part of my healing process from those other feelings, and that I have to love myself enough to allow myself to feel good.
Guilty about joy
For most of my life I have often felt bad for feeling good when so many others are suffering and there’s so much injustice in the world. How can I even think about joy when the world is hurting, when my people are hurting?
Now I know that having a lack of joy in my life actually doesn’t help anyone or do anyone favors in the fight for equality and justice. I know that my joy does not mean I cannot also stand up for what is right, speak my mind, cry, protest, write letters, or do any other work that allows me to make a difference. In fact, joy gives me more energy to do the hard work that many of us are engaging in some form to create a societal change.
Now I refuse to punish myself for the ills of society by withholding joy from myself.
Small joy is just as important as big joy
Moments create a life. Finding joy in a moment is sometimes the best and only option available to us when our unpleasant emotions are too much to bear. At first glance however, it often seems impossible to find joy. I’ve definitely thought to myself “What do I possibly have to smile about when so much feels terrible or is going wrong?” It was on one of my daily walks that I realized that there are small things to smile about, like seeing the beauty in plants and flowers thriving in the park near my home. There are the loving phone calls or texts exchanged with family. A new book I picked up that is creating a fun escape into another world for a few chapters. Trying a Zoom dance class with no concern for how I look.
While I would typically overlook the small moments of joy because I didn’t think it mattered as much, I have come to see that it’s in those small moments that I become present to what makes me feel good, and get to release the pressure valve on my emotions a bit. What’s more, is that I can’t wait for some big joyous moment (particularly during quarantine) to feel happy now. These small moments build me up and uplift me little by little, so that I can thrive not just survive.
Mindfulness and gratitude
Small joy is recognized in our moments of stillness and presence. Being mindful makes the small moments come into our awareness. How to be more mindful? Try taking a break just to breathe in and out deeply. In these deep breaths I become mindful of how I feel, and I recognize when I am emotionally drained and need to tap out and get into something to lift me up. When I am emotionally drained, it can seem like a huge task to do a lot of things, which is why I start small. I pull out a sketch pad and colored pencils, watch a funny TV show, sit in the park, whatever I need to give myself a sense of balance.
How to expand upon the joy you find in the small moment? I take some time to appreciate it, either to myself in my head or in my journal of gratitude (I often have a notebook nearby), or later I’ll share the experience I had with a loved one. When I find a small piece of joy, I pause to really bask in that moment, which helps me to remain grateful and not take the moment for granted.
Your joy matters, and it is your birthright to experience it. Allow the joy in, and let your light shine into the dark parts of the world and within yourself that need to feel whole and healed.