By Mandy Cloninger
Joy was a means to an end — a way to transition. Joy was a focus, a simple way to have a purpose but to not do what I typically do: over-schedule, focus on productivity, achieve some new goal and then burn myself out, only to repeat the same cycle again.
It was the first December in my 20-year nonprofit and fund-raising career that I would not be watching the end-of-year gifts accumulate and comparing them with budget. I would not be at my desk or phone comparing each gift against the expectations, last year’s giving and evaluating my own worth in comparison to how the calendar year incoming dollars totaled.
I felt lighter. I began to choose things to bring me joy. I said no to things that would not bring me joy. I chose to delay and punt to another time if I wasn’t sure it would bring me joy. It was a centering experience. It gave me complete agency over my time and my schedule. Well, not complete agency, I still have a four-year old and a 20-year old, friends and framily, and Christmas and New Year’s would come like they do every year as well!
But it felt like I was in the driver’s seat to create joy-filled days and experiences. So what did cultivating joy help me learn?
My sense of accomplishment and achievement-oriented nature shows up in choosing joy. I gain a sense of accomplishment and joy from a lot of activities: reading or finishing a book, writing a piece of work, working towards larger goals, and learning something new.
I enjoy a lot of very simple things that bring me joy: food, especially Wright’s cake and Christmas cookies, movies, books, yoga, being outdoors in nature, creating and sharing a meal with my friends and family.
Reading remains one of my favorite joy-filled experiences. I am naturally restless. I like to be moving and doing something. Much like when I was a child, it’s still one of the only things that keeps me still, calm, and I feel like I actually rested. I read about six books in December – I think. I’m often reading more than one book at a time and not always great at tracking. I loved Christmas Pig by J.K. Rowling, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s: The Signature of All Things. I chose to read rather than do so many other things in December. I actually fell into a pattern if I was struggling with what might bring my joy, instead of my to-do list, my e-mail or checking social media, I read. I read that Warren Buffet spends half his time reading. If it works for him, it works for me too. If we’re reading, we’re learning.
My four-year-old daughter, Luna, brings me a lot of joy, and spending time with her is a gift. It’s also very hard sometimes. It is also a gift to ask for help with her and have her go play with a friend, her dad or go to a morning of camp.
After a recent bike ride downtown to the park, I caught Luna rolling down a hill without me! I did teach her that and now she’s doing it all on her own and making new friends. I felt the sting, the knowing that I was already missing out on so much with her.
Honestly, I didn’t expect Luna to prevail so heavily in my decisions around joy, but she has. It has brought a lot of clarity to my big three. My number one is family adventure! We seek adventure every day. Though adventure for us is often cultivated in a lot of small moments, rituals and daily practices.
Fun has shown up a lot while cultivating joy this month! We’ve baked. Created ornaments from construction paper and pom poms. We’ve biked. Played with her new dollhouse. Snuggled on the couch watching movies. Napped together.
I’ve taken more than one nap! It’s a miracle. I didn’t even know it was possible.
I didn’t feel the guilt when Luna was sick one day, and I just stayed home with her. It was a messy, vomit-filled day. So much laundry. But, as I held her, stroking her hair and back, I thought, she’s not going to let me do this forever. She’s growing so fast.
I’m savoring this time with her. If we don’t do the things that bring us joy now, when will we? We love family adventure. We went to Michigan to see snow! We sledded! We made ice cream snow. We made a snowman. We played with our friends in the snow. We shopped.
I would catch myself noting moments of joy and pausing to write them down throughout the day, but I also paused at the end of the day, every day, looking back and reflecting on the day, and I added some more moments of joy.
Choosing to find joy-filled moments even when there is vomit everywhere, you’re on the fifth load of laundry and the delivery of bleach wipes isn’t quite there, is a leap, but it’s easier to see the moments when you’re not in the middle of the hard stuff. When she’s asleep, for example.
It can be deciding do I laugh right now or just hang on to being frustrated from 10 minutes ago?
I also can choose to keep chasing and cultivating joy every day, and I have, my joy journal continues!
Joy Journal: December — check out the moments that had me filled with joy day-by-day
Hair cut and color
Wrights alpine cake and banana bread
Day of fellowship: three colleagues and happy hour party
Read my book for an hour when interview canceled
Volunteered at Trinity Cafe
Lunch w/ a few inner circle peeps at Bamboozle
Dinner and drinks w Cindy & Jeremy
Movie w Judy: C’mon C’mon
Wrapped Christmas presents
Setup and organized home office
Finished the Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert – such a beautiful read!
Zoo w/ Luna
Wrote and organized/read all my work
Watched the voice during my lunch break and sang along
Repaired and cleaned Alyssa’s car for her
Spin class – walk this way singing out loud!
Salmon meal – yummy!
Attended Tampa Bay Chamber Lunch with my LT11 Classmates, many of whom I had not seen during the pandemic – socializing and building relationships
Girl’s night dinner
Cats with April
Luna sick and vomiting
Snuggled and held her
Tons of laundry
Drank some wine
Winter clothes from Kelley
Packed for trip!
Luna running through airport – walking sidewalk, escalator and excellent traveler
Wow! Where’d all that snow come from! Luna’s reaction to seeing snow for the first time when we woke up!
Luna sliding, climbing, big snow piles to play in!
Making dinner for Jenni and the girls
Luna and Billie – lambs at church – wild sheep!
Joy this weeks theme of advent
Hallelujah Christmas song
Kitch iti Kipi – big spring, 45 degrees year round
Big Spring – boat, snow, ducks w/ Rick & Sheila
Big Spring Tavern
Sledding w Luna and Billie
Yoga w Katy & Jenni
Beers at Shutes saloon
Making Christmas Crack w/girls
Park and Luna sledding on her bootie because we didn’t have the slide and she found a hill with snow
Christmas tree and magic
Finished One by One – Ruth Ware, thriller murder
Tried a pastie
Shopping w/Luna in downtown Houghton
Dinner w/ the Holmes
Craft time w Luna & Billie – made ornaments
Took a nap
Read the Christmas Pig by J.K. Rowling
Interview and writing wow! time
Balloons w/ Billie & Luna
BAT sandwich and beers in the cold snowy day
Sledding at playground w Luna
Dancing w/ Jenni
Sledding w/ Luna
Reading The Impossible First – staying up late to read
Sledding w Luna at big hill w Jack & Billie
Fitz’s for lunch on Lake Superior
The vastness and beauty of Lake Superior
Travel day (in contrast to joy of travel to!) – quite a bit long and frustrating
Lunch w/ Jamie & Vicki
Watched a movie while Luna napped and finished it after bedtime: CODA
Snuggling w Luna to watch a movie
Walking on Riverwalk w/ Jeremy & Luna
Baking w/ Luna, April & Gavin’s family
Christmas lights w/ Brad & Luna
Putting together Luna’s dollhouse and conquering that 65-step project including the elevator!
Christmas Eve service
Dinner w/ the family
Magic of Christmas w/ Luna
Took a nap
Made dinner – only the things we love to eat at Christmas – nothing extra!
Snuggled w/ Luna and fell asleep on couch watching Christmas movies
Played with unicorns and dollhouse w/ Luna – a lot!
Sent birthday invite out
Worked on blog – frustrating not quite yet joyful
Took Luna to Doublemint camp – asked for help babysitting since Luna’s out of school
Worked on blog site all morning!
Biked on Riverwalk w Luna
Finished blog site and sent to inner circle for feedback – joy in accomplishing a small goal!
Felt some flow for a bit writing and with blog!
Took Luna to the park
Zoo day w Gavin & Mackenzie & Luna
Got wet on roaring springs w/o a change of clothes for anyone!
Yoga w Lisa @ Y
Wrote all afternoon
Said yes to Karen asking for Luna to come over and play!
Fort Desoto beach w/ Luna
Byblos for dinner
5 thoughts on “Cultivating & Choosing Joy”
Joy is a wonderful thing! I am glad you found sparks in all kinds of joy filled moments.
I love that quote on joy being a choice. Because we definitely have the power of choice if we stay in this moment. And the quickest way out of rumination is by taking action. All these things are interconnected, and it’s up to us to take the little steps to get there.
Your post was a great reminder of that. So thanks for sharing!
You deserve JOY my friend!
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Enjoy reading your M&M. Lina’s 4; so right you are they do grow up fast. Someone said “you’re about as happy as you choose to be”; so I believe you’ve on the right path with JOY!
This is Beautiful. It reminded me as tears filled my eyes when I had a Mother Before leaving me Five years ago in the hospital moving to Oregon state Never to return to get me as I was deemed terminally I’ll.
I see so much joy in your journal, and you will receive more once you keep moving forward on the things that make you happy. I appreciate this, bc it reminded me to keep going strong as long as it makes Me smile My heart smile, and not have a care of what others say nor think of me.