What brings us joy? During a time of pandemic, when many of our favourite pastimes have temporarily been suspended, this question may have taken on a new sense of importance in our lives.  Many have discovered new activities which bring them joy, such as baking, or bike riding, or playing board games with their family. For some people, very little has changed during this time, while for others, their whole lives might have been upended. Whatever our circumstances, for many of us it has been a time for taking stock of our lives, and maybe re-evaluating some of our priorities.

Joy can be like a spark, bright and bubbly; or like a mountain lake, calm and deep. It can be a fleeting moment, barely a wisp, or something which permeates our life for days. Sometimes it can come upon us randomly, seemingly out of the blue, and at other times we may have done a lot of work and preparation for our moment of joy, such as when we are graduating with a degree or getting married.

 The practice of mindfulness can help us to discern which aspects of our lives bring genuine joy rather than a brief distraction. Perhaps one of the reasons why Marie Kondo’s book ‘The life-changing magic of tidying up’ and the related TV series have been so popular is because she encourages us to ask the question – ‘does this spark joy for me?’ She invites us to tune into our bodies and become attuned to when that spark of joy is present, and when it’s not. Moreover, she then suggests that we let go of what is no longer needed with a sense of gratitude, for what it has given us while it was part of our lives. Noticing what sparks joy, and being grateful for whatever comes into our lives, even if only briefly, are both wonderful practices, and they remind me of a quote by the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh:

            ‘Joy comes from touching things that are refreshing and beautiful, within and outside of ourselves.’

Years ago, I came across another way of regularly bringing a sense of joy into life, when I worked through the twelve-week program in Julia Cameron’s book ‘The Artist’s Way’. This course is designed to stimulate our creativity, and one of the key practices is the ‘artist’s date’. This is a commitment to take the ‘inner artist’ out on a weekly date to somewhere quirky and slightly unexpected. It could be visiting a little shop you’d normally just walk past, like a train enthusiast shop or tiny art gallery. Or perhaps stopping and walking through a park you often drive past, attending a lunchtime student concert at a conservatorium, visiting a community festival at the local temple, booking into a star gazing evening or a behind the scenes tour – whatever awakens our curiosity and openness to the unexpected. Pretty soon, after a few of these ‘dates’, we find that sense of curiosity and delight spilling over into the rest of our lives, and notice moments of delight in all kinds of places we would have usually just rushed past.

 During these times of disruption, tuning in to what ‘sparks joy’ for us, and setting aside regular times for those joyful activities, can be one way to strengthen our internal resources in a way which is most true for us.     

Mindfulness practice:

Take yourself on an ‘artist’s date’ – somewhere quirky and delightful. It may be local to start off with, and as restrictions lift, somewhere further afield. You could even, for now, make use of the many online offerings to explore a new unfamiliar area. Notice what ‘sparks joy’, and how this feels for you.

Anja Tanhane

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