#NaNonFicWriMo: Joy

Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

At the beginning of this year, I wrote the following words above my yearly goals:

Seek joy.
Choose joy.
Joy will take you further.

At the time, I was recovering from the worst year I ever had. After six months of everything going wrong that could go wrong, I finally felt like I wasn’t living in a purgatory of monthly tragedy. I had achieved a novel but tenuous level of stability by the time that I wrote those words. Perversely, just as the dust settled, the anxiety started to creep in. My anxious inner voice whispered at me. “Yes things are ok now. But what about when the other shoe drops? Can you really afford to be blindsided? Better to stay vigilant so you can avoid surprises.

What you seek you will find. I sought out reasons to be afraid. Leaving in a state of chronic fear and vigilance leaves no room for joy. You never fully exhale. You carry tension in your body as though you are bracing for a punch. Even when you experience moments of happiness, the anxiety breaks through to give you a guilt trip for daring to forget your vigilance. And you end each day fatigued without the ability to put your finger on why you are so tired. I had already lived nearly two months in this state of watchfulness.

I felt so much fear. And worse, I had trained myself to seek fear rather than seeking joy. Every minor setback or misunderstanding became reason to ring the alarm. Every doubt mushroomed over night regardless of how probable the eventuality is. I desperately needed to remind myself that joy was possible. Hence, the words that I wrote.

What surprised me most about that written declaration was the second sentence: Choose joy. Most of my life, I have told myself I will be happy when I achieve a goal or change a certain situation. Or I tell myself that I can relax when I’ve been able to control the outcome. Joy was something external to me and even worse it was conditional. If the condition was delayed or never happen, I was stuck in that fear-filled purgatory. Paradoxically, no that I didn’t have scapegoat to blame for my lack of joy, I had to point the finger at myself. For the first time, I really saw and felt that joy was a choice. I was the one waiting for the other shoe to drop, not the unnamed negative eventuality. And I was the one who had already survived all of the previous challenges and lived to tell the tale.

I desperately needed to remind myself that joy was not only possible but a choice. I already had everything I needed. I simply had to choose to turn my time, energy and focus to bringing more joy in my life rather than allowing anxiety to guide me. So here we are almost at the end of the year and I can look back to see the times when I let joy in and the times that anxiety reared its ugly head. Anxiety: the panic attack I had this spring. Joy: completed the first draft of the first novel I’ve ever written. Anxiety: crying on my birthday about my lack of progress about my goals Joy: achieving goals that I thought were impossible.

The difference between living a life ruled by joy rather than anxiety is the intention. Joy requires you to drop the anchor and commit to choosing that port. Anxiety is the wind that will blow the ship every which way which means it pulls you away from what you want. And I was tired of being pushed around.

This year has taught me joy does not merely drop by. You can stumble across joy but it’s not enough. I have to make room for it in my life by better managing my anxiety with consistent daily self-care. I have to choose to see joy around me. Now I look for joy in small ways everyday by expressing gratitude. I need to Marie Kondo my goals to see which ones really bring my joy. I have to know what my intentions are. Lastly, I have to allow joy to really sink in and not have my defenses up all of the time. I’ve ruined more happy occasions than I care to remember because I was too afraid of joy being short-lived. Joy takes you farther because it builds momentum: positive memories of the past, enjoyment of the present and anticipation for the future.

I’m writing an unedited personal essay everyday of November for #NaNonFicWriMo, the non-fiction spin on #NaNoWriMo. You can find daily prompts on my Instagram. Want to join in? The only rules are at least 750 words about the daily prompt and tag #NaNonFicWriMo to share.