My parents were very intentional with naming me, and I have found that names are either prescriptive or descriptive. I have certainly had enough experiences that require faith, and my name reminds me to look beyond my circumstances and hope in things I cannot see. One of my middle names is “Ayodele”. In Yoruba, this means “joy has come home”, and in my late twenties and early thirties, “joy” has been something that I have found myself craving more than anything.
It is important to note that there is a difference between happiness and joy. To the untrained eye, joy looks a lot like an intense manifestation of happiness. But happiness is often temporary, and associated with a moment, object or being. The problem with happiness is that once that moment, object or being changes, the pleasure associated with it is removed - and after the high of happiness we often crash into a low of feeling sad, stagnant or depressed.
A life with joy is found deep within ourselves. It does not have the peaks and troughs of a life based on happiness, and remains constant regardless of the circumstances around us. I am realizing that in order to kickstart joy in hopeless situations, it requires an uncomfortable and seemingly ridiculous act - rejoicing. Rejoicing begets a new burst of joy.
My journey to finding joy started on December 11th, 2017. My 31st birthday. After a few years of grief, sadness, and questioning of self, I was sick of being swayed by emotions. I knew that joy was unwaverable, and I knew my life had proven too volatile to rely on happiness. But what I should have known, is that whenever you make a public declaration to seek joy, circumstances will come along to challenge it. And indeed, 2018 brought that challenge. Just as soon as I thought I’d got on top of this joy thing, my life shifted and I was facing the most difficult challenge of my 31 years. In that moment, I had a choice. Choose to go into a deep depression, and die here, in this place. Or continue on with this pursuit of joy, and find light amongst the darkness of grief again. I decided to do the latter.
So how do you find joy? I’ve always quoted the scripture “the joy of the Lord is my strength”. I’ve even prayed this back to God numerous times, deeply unaware of what I was asking for. To ask for this kind of joy, to ask for this kind of strength. Quite simply, I was asking to be placed into a strenuous and challenging situation, not realizing that the prime position to experience the Lord’s joy, is in your darkest and most depressive states. Indeed, it is in the most painful moments of loss, grief, confusion and suffering that you realize how deep your joy really runs.
Do you have enough joy to survive? Do you have enough joy to overcome? If not, how on earth do you find it?
It recently hit me. The deepest joy simultaneously exists with the deepest grief. Grief doesn’t just occur after the death of a person - it can occur after the death of a relationship, the death of a dream, or the death of an ideal. Deep joy occurs because you have transcended your grievous situation to a realm that is above your what you are facing. It is the beauty in calamity.
Another scripture I have been drawn to shares that those who sow in tears will reap in joy. This is beautiful to me. However, what it doesn’t clarify, is the lag time between seed time and harvest. It takes patience. It takes faith. It takes cultivation. So, how do you cultivate your tears, farmer?
Zadie Smith once said that “joy is human madness” - and I quite agree. To experience it, you need to set aside reality and the “logical” way to respond. It is mysterious, and quite frankly supernatural. Yes - I am saying that if you have joy in your darkest of times, you have a super power.
Joy is moreso a process than a destination. It is evolving, and often requires different methods to find it. Self-care is instrumental in this. You cannot just have joy when you’re not making time for yourself or investing in your personal growth. This has been where I’ve made mistakes in the past. Continuous self sacrifice will not necessarily bring you joy. You must stop, refresh and rejuvenate yourself in order to continue. This differs from person to person, and is an important part of self discovery.
As “mad” as joy is, it is our natural state of being. I frequently observe babies, and the way they interact with the world during infancy. I love the joy they have, and the way they are able to be content regardless of what is going on around them. It is knowledge that robs them of this joy as they develop into children. Between the rules they learn in school, the discipline they have at home, they spend the first decade of their life unlearning how to experience joy. So, what do babies do that we don’t? They take every moment in. They absorb their surroundings. They are curious about life, and their place in it. AND they are 100% invested in self-care. I have never seen a baby sacrifice feeding, sleep or play. If they need it, they demand it - and they scream (making everyone uncomfortable) until they receive what they need. There is so much we can learn from this infant stage. How often do we suppress what we need for the comfort of others, and in turn sacrifice our chance of joy?
It is not easy. And maybe the most important thing to note is that “things” will not bring you the joy you seek. This includes marriage, children, homes, or even careers. Yes, it will bring you temporary fulfillment - but anyone who has longed for something hard enough can testify that once you receive that very thing, without joy, the emptiness is still there.
My ultimate go-to is to focus on something outside of yourself and the situation at hand. For me, it requires focusing on God. When friends ask how it’s possible to have so much faith, I simply say - “I need it to survive.” What you focus on, you will magnify. Focusing on God magnifies hope, and minimizes despair. I don’t always do this immediately, but when I get to it, it shifts my perspective.
The second thing is to think about something small that you can rejoice in or be grateful for - something honest, just, pure, or lovely. If that proves too difficult, I’ve started to find joy in breathing. When everything is collapsing around you, it is sometimes necessary to breathe and contemplate on the basic gift of life.
The greatest thing about finding joy, is that you learn more about who you are and what you’re made of. It shapes you, forces you to be creative, and tests everything you claim to believe. When you begin to experience it, you become fearless, courageous, and content. Experiencing joy allows you to go back to pursuing purpose - discovering why you were created, and the impact you can have.
Find joy, and bring it home.