Finding happiness isn’t a matter of creating a perfectly even-keeled experience of the world, where no sadness ever intrudes. Instead it means riding the waves of joy, and trying to find our way back upward when we’ve been knocked down. In renewal we find a kind of resilience, an ability to bounce back from difficulty by reigniting the optimism and hope that rises within us when we believe that joy will return.-Ingrid Fetell Lee
In February, I read this book called Joyful, by Ingrid Fetel Lee and immediately saw the world differently. The chapter, “Renewal”, had the greatest impact.
I’ve been seeing a therapist for four years. One of my recurring challenges is sitting with discomfort. The challenge started specifically in regards to discomfort in my relationships. Not letting an insufferable leader at work get to me, and not forcing friends into conversations that they don’t want to have because I feel uncomfortable. I think I’ve come a long way.
Discomfort can also just be “bad” feelings. Feeling lonely, sad, weepy, unconfident, angry, apathetic. I realized that these feelings were extra hard for me because I’d always been identified as a “happy person” by others so I identified myself that way. As a result, when I felt “bad” I didn’t feel like myself and I always feared those bad feelings were going to last FOREVER.
The chapter about Renewal in Joyful discusses the benefits of cycles and the understanding that things always get worse and also get better. Specifically, how those cycles are tied to nature, and we can count on winter just as surely as we can count on that sexy Summertime Chi (I’m paraphrasing here, obviously). It helped me to frame my thoughts around less positive emotions this way — I feel this way now, but I won’t feel this way forever. It sounds simple, but for me it was revolutionary.
This book overall also helped me understand the difference between happiness and joy. Now, I am careful not to describe myself as happy but to describe myself as joyful, and as someone who values joy. To me, this communicates that I seek opportunities to feel blasts of good, warm fuzzy feelings and bring them for others, but it’s not saying “I feel good all the time.” It’s more honest, and more respectful to myself and my big, fun, and complex series of emotions!
I read Joyful just before spring, so I got to experience the renewal and abundance in that fun, positive way that comes with seeing bright colors in people’s outfits and fresh tulips lining the streets. But I’ve been thinking more about it, especially the past few weeks as the leaves change color like fire before falling off the trees.
On September 15, my life took a wild turn. I can’t say much about specifics, but I found myself in a position I never would have predicted personally and professionally. I faced internal questions about my worth, my capabilities, and my competence. I fluctuated between wild fury and chaotic despair by the hour for a few weeks before settling into a general funky void where my outsides were unenthused and my insides were screaming huge life questions at me:
“WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO NEXT????”
“ARE YOU EVEN GOOD AT ANYTHING?????”
“DO YOU EVEN WANT TO DO ANYTHING YOU’RE GOOD AT???”
“WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL AND TRY SOMETHING NEW???”
“HOW ARE YOU GOING TO PAY FOR THAT???”
“WHAT. IS. WRONG. WITH. YOU????????”
“HOW ARE YOU GOING TO INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO PEOPLE???”
It’s been a few weeks now, each week comes with progress. What still causes me discomfort is the part where I still don’t know what I want to do next in my life specifically. I do know I don’t want to rush into anything, and I do know I’m considering a lot more when determining my next move than I was considering when I “chose my career path” as I entered college in 2010. My therapist encourages me to embrace this moment of transition. It’s exciting after all! But honestly I’m not there yet. I’m still scared as hell, and it is a very uncomfortable place for me.
Here’s where that renewal thing comes back, though. As I’ve been more open about these struggles with friends, family, and mentors, I’ve learned that a LOT of them are also facing big life questions. For some, the potential to move from their hometown for the first time in their life. For others, articulating their identity in a new city or after big life changes. A lot of us are facing big questions that don’t have very fast answers.
I had the thought on my walk up Humboldt Boulevard this morning, passing what’s left of the beautiful fall colors — how fitting that these challenges are happening in the Fall. We can transition to winter with these big questions, a time when it is natural to be introspective, restful, and with new ideas. And come spring, we can renew, and blossom with our new knowledge of ourselves.
When I look at where I’m at right now in this way, it is way less scary.