Finding Joy

I read two books recently that have come together to illuminate a life-changing truth for me. The first is Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The other is The Life-changing Magic of Tidying up by Maria Kondo.

Intuitive Eating says a couple of important things. First of all, dieting doesn’t work. The minute you say to yourself, “I can’t eat this food” then that’s all you think about until you cave in. The second thing it talks about is our mindless eating. We eat things we don’t like for many reasons: boredom, emotional release, and to be polite for example. These are things we don’t really want to eat, but we do so for a variety of reasons.

This book suggests 10 principles of intuitive eating. Basically, don’t eat if you’re not hungry. Eat what you really want. Eat until you’re satisfied. Don’t eat more than that. Eat things that give you joy. Really taste and appreciate one bite of cheesecake and you’ll get more out of the experience than wolfing down a large slice. As someone who has tried to multitask by reading or sorting email as I eat, this has been quite a change. But I’ve lost 10 pounds since I started.

The second book, is about how to live in a clutter-free world. There are two main points:

1) Sort through all of your possessions. Hold each one and ask yourself, “Does this give me joy?” If not, you should get rid of it.

2) Once sorted, you should create a specific place for every item.

As I was reading this second book, one thing that struck me was when she said that when we discard items that we don’t love, we make space for the life and person we want to become.

This was an illuminating experience. As I held a paint-stained pair of army-green coveralls, my answer was yes, these give me joy. I wear them when working on home-improvement or car-repair projects. Their functionality is a symbol of self-reliance.

At the same time, I held a fleece jacket someone gave me as a gift eight years ago. I rarely wear it. I had asked specifically for this jacket, but never wore it. As I held he jacket, I realized it was because it’s a size too big. I hate how it looked on me. It hung off my frame like a cardigan sweater. Since it didn’t give me joy, I got rid of it. I honored the efforts of the person who bought it, and honored myself by deciding I didn’t have to keep it.

I am more careful about what I purchase. I needed a new suit, so I found one that I really liked—one that made me feel good. My wife noticed that I stand taller when I wear it, and someone compliments me every time. It gives me joy.

Now, to bring all this together: both books have in common the idea that we improve our lives by filling it with things that really give us joy.

This idea has spread out into other areas. I have been sorting my acquaintances. There are people I would love to have as close friends. But when I really examine the relationship, it’s me inviting them to do things and them declining. When I think of these people I feel some anxiety as to the possibility that I may have offended them somehow. I also feel discouraged when I think of them. So I have stopped trying to force these relationships.

When I consider activities I make better decisions. It’s easier to say no to binge watching my favorite show until 3 a.m. It’s fun, but I’ll feel worse the next day. Going to a funeral to support a grieving friend? Of course. Reengage in a toxic relationship? No, thanks. I choose not to receive that. It’s easy when you remember that joy comes from fulfilling God’s purpose for us here on the earth.

I’ve noticed some physical and emotional side effects of this new philosophy. I have more energy. I exercise more, and more intently. I feel more creative. I’m calmer, and I’m happier. I’m more patient. It’s also easier to recognize my own limits. I respect my own fatigue and need for solitude, just as I respect my own hunger and satiety.

So find your joy. If you can’t, start by discarding the things that don’t bring you joy. Eventually you’ll cut through enough noise that you can find it. Then nurture it. Examine it and change the rest of your life to fit it. This might mean quitting your job, learning a new skill, or making new friends. Whatever it is, discover it, and go for it.

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