On the darkest of nights, when cloud cover masks the sky’s countless constellations, a patient star-gazer will still find light. A brief hole in the sky as the clouds shift, allows the celestial bodies to show through. Joy is this way too, coming into view even in the bleakest of times.
This is not to say that joy replaces sadness or struggle nor that it’s realistic to expect a constant state of elation in life. Rather, our minds are capable of a duality which allows for both dark and light emotions to exist alongside one another.
If we can infuse even the smallest amount of lightness or levity into a time of difficulty, we can steady ourselves for the journey required to pass through dark times.
I recall a time in my life when I was facing a hefty problem. Of the many calls of support I received, one stood out as especially uplifting. A friend who had experience with a similar situation rang me to talk about it in practical terms. After some time of sharing advice, he made a joke about what I was dealing with. I paused for a moment and then let loose an uproarious laugh.
When I finally stopped laughing, he said, “Oh, good. I wasn’t sure you were ready for humor but I am glad I tried.”
He had the courage to momentarily move the clouds out of my dark night, showing me a spark in the sky. That was a powerful experience. Humor is a remarkable tool for easing pain. If we are able to poke fun at something grim, we are able to weaken the fear associated with the problem we face. Humor isn’t the only tool we have for taking the wind out of forbidding sails. Keeping an eye out for moments of gratitude, planning fun, and reaching out with offers of good-times are immensely useful in fostering joy.
Gratitude empowers joy
I once read: “joy is a compass.” It’s a quote I liked enough to print out and hang on my refrigerator. Its meaning resonated: joy is something that we should use to determine our direction in life.
A school supply shopping trip enlarged my understanding of the sentiment. Joy is not only the kind of compass that points our direction, joy is also akin to the compass used in geometry. We can draw circles of joy within or around the edges of nearly every situation.
One such way to do that is to focus on something to be grateful for. Even when life is especially trying, we can find reasons for gratitude. I knew a woman whose young daughter was in the hospital for an extended time receiving medicine intravenously. Upon first seeing her daughter with the tubes, she felt scared. To combat her fear, she named the electronic IV machine and tied a few bows around it.
Her daughter and she referred to the machine by name, attributed personality traits to it and introduced it to visitors. It was silly but effective. The patient and her family were able to combat fear of the unknown with gratitude for the doctors, nurses and even the devices involved in her care.
Take control by planning fun
During difficult times, we may feel a loss of control in our lives. Planning something to look forward to allows us to exert some sense of power over things. It can be even the smallest of treats, such as a visit with a friend or a walk along a favorite trail.
A friend finds that a walk along the beach without his cell phone, gives him time to recharge and better face the lengthy job hunt he is in the mists of.
Reach out with joy
When I was in elementary school, a student’s mother passed away. Though she wasn’t a member of my grade, I recall the principal meeting with my class. She explained that the student was worried about coming back to school because she feared that if she was laughing or having fun on the play yard, other kids might assume she wasn’t missing her mom. Our principal went on to explain that there were no rules to grief and that opposite emotions may stand side by side with one another.
Her words gave me a window into the nature of grief that has always stayed with me. Our hearts are capable of holding great sadness and happiness at once. What’s more, a healthy psyche relies upon the wholeness of our emotions and allowing — even encouraging — breaks from grief are useful.
We may tend to be uncomfortable around the grief and hardship our friends face in life, but we shouldn’t avoid it or them. In addition to being a shoulder to cry on, inviting a friend out for an evening of fun or sending a lighthearted text might be precisely what someone weighted down with heavy emotions needs. He or she might not accept your invitation, nor reply to your text, but keep trying. Knowing that friends are available to infuse joy into difficult times is powerful and helps ward of feelings of isolation.
A sky full of stars
With some practice, we are capable of being the force that clears space for joy to enter our lives and the lives of our loved ones in times of darkness. It is with experience and faith that we know that the stars are present even when we are unable to see them; and joy is available even when we are in sorrow or on unsteady ground.
Christine Moore grew up in rural Northern California surrounded by nature. She holds an MFA in poetry and has written professionally for more than 15 years. Her articles about food and wine support her bon vivant ways and help her encourage others to live a life of joy and passion. She facilitates a women’s spirituality group in her community.
Image courtesy of Eidy Bambang-Sunaryo.