Cultivating JOY

Happiness vs Joy

If you know me, you know I love learning about the brain, particularly the psychology behind what drives our behavior and the choices we make. Not surprising then, I thoroughly enjoyed researcher Brene Brown’s recent blog post about the role of love versus lovelessness in modern culture, and the impact both are having on how we interact with one another. (I highly recommend the 5-10 minutes takes to read it.)

By the end of the post, two words stuck out for me: cultivate joy. To understand this phrase, let’s first define joy. It’s often used interchangeably with happiness. Yes, joy is similar to happiness in that it is a feeling of pleasure and goodness. Yet, joy promises something greater than its more fleeting counterpart happiness. While happiness is a pleasant feeling typically felt due to a positive exchange with another person (ie. dependent on others), joy is an everlasting feeling of goodness that exists even when we are unhappy because it is rooted in us being happy with ourselves (ie. dependent on self).

Think about that for a minute: dependent on others versus dependent on self. Looking at it that way, it’s easy to see why cultivating joy is so important:

  1. we all know we can only control our own actions, reactions and behavior (not others), and
  2. by doing so in a way that is in line with our personal integrity, we’re promised some sense of inner peace and security regardless of how others may be showing up in our lives.
Cultivating Joy

I don’t know about you, but I definitely want to cultivate more joy in my life! For me, that includes helping to cultivate joy for the little people I come into contact with too. I believe cultivating joy for children looks like helping them grow up with a strong sense of self, to understand who they are and what it means to honor “self” by acting with integrity.

For example, I want them to be able to identify the many different emotions we are all faced with every day. Further, I want them to be able to discern when those emotions are theirs as opposed to the feelings others may be projecting. If it is the latter, some of us are more sensitive than others and actually pick up on other people’s feelings and feel them as if they’re ours. In that case, part of cultivating joy means knowing the difference and being able to have compassion for others without losing ourselves in the meantime (remember dependent on others instead of self?).

It’s a big mission, I know. Cultivating Joy  Will you help me? Here are two small things we can all do cultivate joy for children (and for ourselves!).

1. Actively listen to what they’re saying. Spend 5 minutes each day to inquire about your child’s day. Instead of, “How was your day?” you may ask questions like:

  • What made you smile today?
  • What rule was the hardest to follow today?
  • What would you rate your day on a scale of 1 to 10? Why?
  • What was your favorite part of the day? Why?
  • What are all the different things you felt today?

Remember, this isn’t necessarily a time to solve problems. It’s a time to focus all of your attention on the other person. No phones, no TV, no other distractions. Being heard goes a long way in letting children know they matter, thus developing their self-confidence. Tip: right before they go to sleep and just after they wake up are awesome feel-good times to connect with a child.

2. Listen to what they’re not saying. The more you listen, the more you’ll pick up on non-direct communication cues your child may be using. For example, maybe when your child talks about things that happen at school he frequently says, “It doesn’t matter.” Maybe it really doesn’t matter; but if you notice s/he says it a lot, it may be time to see if there’s an underlying feeling that your child simply doesn’t know how to talk about. Chances are this could be his/her way of asking you for help. Or does your child get sick a lot? It’s possible your child is prone to bugs (yuck!), but if they frequently are complaining of tummy aches or headaches, it could also be anxiety or fear rearing their heads. Simply asking, “Tell me more about that…” could open the door to to learning more.

3. Speaking up. It’s amazing how quickly something fun can turn bad. Talk with your child about how to talk with their friends if they don’t like something. For example, they’re playing a game of chase. After awhile they don’t want to play anymore, but their friends won’t stop chasing them. What happens next? Being prepared ahead of time with what words to say(“Stop. I don’t want to play anymore,” for example) can make all the difference in how easily the game ends and your child transitions to the next activity.

These suggestions aren’t rocket-science and are really just meant as a gateway to help you think about being intentional in nurturing your child’s sense of self, thus helping them cultivate joy in their lives.

(Don’t have kids of your own? You likely still have a child in your life that you have a huge impact on! Practice cultivating joy with them when you have the chance. In the meantime, these are great tips to use with adults too.)

With Your Child

Writing and drawing together can be a great way to open the doors to greater communication. Imagination gives us a peak into what is important to another person. Try doing this activity together!

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Cultivating JOY
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