Cultivating Joy in the New Year

Happy New Year, friends! In this time of reflection and transformation, many of us are wondering:  what is the best and most effective way to feel/look/do/be… better?

 For some, this is a season to look within. To shine a little light on what we most value and desire so we can honor these things with fresh intentions. Others of us are just tired and bloated from all the fruitcake and alcohol consumption over the holidaze. Whatever side of the spectrum you fall, January so generously gives us all the chance to dust ourselves off and start again.

 As you begin to shed old habits and cultivate new ones, I’d like to offer a proposal. What if, instead of creating a long list of things you SHOULD do to BE better this year, you gently consider what you WANT to do to FEEL better.

 Crazy idea, right?

 We get so caught up in the narrative that we have to be or look a certain way that we end up creating empty resolutions that make us feel pressured instead of inspired. This is likely because we are taught from a very young age (especially as women) to prioritize the needs and expectations of others before our own. Prioritizing our joy is seen as self-indulgent and luxurious but I fiercely believe the opposite: prioritizing our joy is as important to our wellbeing as the food we eat and air we breathe. When our spirit is fed our reserves replenish and we are therefore able to give of ourselves more freely.

 What you desire matters. When you turn your back on what lights you up – you, and those around you, suffer. Your health deteriorates, relationships falter and everything feels like a chore. Step back into alignment with joy and things start to improve. So, instead of shoulding on yourself this season, what if you were to honor the pull of your heart’s desire?

 The easiest way to do this is to find what you love and do more of that. Maybe it’s cooking a nourishing meal, climbing mountains or snuggling on the couch with your cat. It could be swinging on a trapeze, watching a sunset or volunteering at a homeless shelter. It doesn’t have to be grand or take up loads of time – it can be as simple as creating a playlist of all your favorite songs and dancing to one of them when you get out of bed each morning. (I did this “Joy Jig” every day for a year during a difficult time in my life. It was both darn fun and profoundly healing).

 Don’t know what you love? Consider what you did as a child that kept you occupied for hours on end. Or ask yourself how you would spend your time if you had no other obligations or responsibilities. If you’re still stuck it’s possible that you’re simply experiencing a very human response to fear. Think about what scares you the most and you might have your answer. Doing what we love can be a very tender and vulnerable experience – even if it’s for just a few moments each day. Check out one of my favorite authors, Brené Brown, for more insight on this. (Her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, is a great place to start).

 The rewards of nourishing ourselves with joy are plentiful. Breath deepens, muscles relax, circulation improves and stress melts away. Modern neuroscience tells us that when we are fully present while doing something pleasurable, we experience a cascade of positive effects on all the different systems in our bodies. This can result in a strengthened immune system, balanced hormones, improved digestion and restful sleep. We know these things to be true, yet our emotional wellbeing is the first thing to take a back seat when we are in pain or dis-ease. This is completely understandable and oh-so-human, but what if we tried something different this year? How about, in times of difficulty, we gently remind ourselves to turn towards what lights us up and make that our North Star.

 For those of you interested in giving it a try, you may find these resources useful:

 ·      The Greater Good Magazine – Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life, put out by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, is full of fantastic information and inspiring ideas. These fine folks also create a wonderful Podcast called The Science of Happiness

 ·      Another equally effective way to unlock joy is to start with gratitude. Watch this or this to get you started.