Today, I want to invite you to reflect on the stories you tell yourself that limit your joy and to invite you to consider a new story.

I use the word stories to refer to beliefs, opinions, assumptions, and other thoughts we tell ourselves, often without even noticing them. When our stories go unnoticed, they often hold us back from feeling good and making the choices that honor our needs. But when we shine light on our stories and bring them to our conscious awareness, they begin to lose their power and we gain more freedom to choose how we show up.

So, with that said, I invite you to ask yourself: What do you believe to be true about joy?

You might even pause the podcast, take out your journal, and write a stream of consciousness about everything you believe to be true about joy.

Then, ask yourself: Do any of these beliefs hold me back from experiencing joy or feeling the ways I want to feel?

If they do, you do not need to try to change your mind or erase these thoughts from your brain.

Instead, the way to change our stories is to become aware of them and then to get curious about what story might serve us more.

There’s one story that people who care deeply about the state of the world often tell ourselves, which limits our joy. It sounds something like this:

Who am I to feel good when so many other people feel bad? If I feel too good, then I am betraying people who feel less good. I can’t enjoy all that I have when so many people have so little. I cannot be happy and be in integrity with the heartache of the world at the same time.

Does that sound familiar to you?

If so, and if you are willing, I invite you to try on a new story, one that works well for me.

I’ll start with the words of poet Jack Gilbert who says:

“We must risk delight… We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”[1]

I believe that one small reason we’re at the point of imminent global self-destruction is that we changemakers too often forget that we have the capacity to hold the polarity of grief and praise.

Too often, we overwork, overgive, overdo, grow resentful and curmudgeonly, become mired in interpersonal conflict, succumb to cultures of commiseration and gossip, and in the end, drop out altogether. People who consider getting involved see how hard it looks and opt out.

Granted, our work often feels Sisyphean, like a never-ending, uphill battle to push a boulder up a hill. Sometimes, we need to vent and complain.

And yet, when we choose to pay attention, we can see tiny wins all around us—moments of unexpected agreement with someone who’s often on the other side of the aisle, a shift in behavior from a colleague who’s been challenging us, an unexpected vote from a city councilor who’s typically conservative, the approval of a grant that our organization is depending on, a bit more funding for schools, sunshine streaming through the window.

If we do not celebrate these tiny wins, we’re far more likely to become exhausted, overwhelmed, or cynical, wondering if any of our efforts even matter.

When we notice and celebrate our tiny wins, we’re far more likely to fuel our tank for the long haul, protect the energy we need to make decisions that serve us and our communities, and enjoy our efforts to make a difference in the world.

Training our attention to notice what works and what brings us delight grows our capacity to get clear about what would bring us joy in the future, imagine a more just and joyful future, and choose next steps in that direction.

And as opposed to happiness, joy can be found in any circumstance. The word joy stems from the Greek word gau- meaning to rejoice.

In contrast, the English word happy stems from the Old Norse word happ meaning chance or good luck, and when the word first emerged in the late 1300s, it meant lucky, favored by fortune, being in advantageous circumstances.

Many people conflate happiness with joy and assume that joy is unreachable until our circumstances change. But our fights for collective wellbeing will not be over in our lifetimes, and we owe it to ourselves and to the sacredness of life itself to not wait until our fight is over to experience joy.

And besides, we have to wait. I’ve found joy alongside grief, fear, rage, and struggle. Whereas happiness depends on circumstance, joy is accessible even amid heartache and devastation.

Experiencing the delight of sunshine on snow, a mug of hot chocolate, the warmth of a blanket, or an enthralling book—and admitting that we feel pleasure and delight—is not the same as toxic positivity, spiritual bypassing, or falling asleep to injustice.

So this is the new story I invite you to try on:

Those of us who are called to bring forth a more joyful future for the world have a responsibility to practice joy in the present moment, even when our circumstances are at their most challenging. In the face of systems of oppression designed to rob us of joy, devoting attention to delight is a radical act.

Again, practicing joy does not mean denying our grief or ignoring injustice. It means bearing witness to the full spectrum of life, holding the pain and the joy, noticing what needs changing and what deserves savoring.

[1] Jack Gilbert, Refusing Heaven: Poems. (New York, NY: Knopf, 2007.)


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