Do you find joy in the journey, or are you constantly delaying happiness? Maybe you’ve thought, I’ll be happier when I get my next promotion, or elated when I get that next big raise. Perhaps you’ll be happier when your bank balance reaches $100,000, or you retire.
Years ago, I met a woman whose kids attended the same preschool as mine. When they were little, she told me, “I’ll be happier when they are out of diapers.” When they were three, she said, “I’ll be happier when they are in school all day.”
Now in elementary school, she is looking forward to middle school, high school, and college. Each time their birthdays roll around, she wishes for the next one, and rather than finding joy in the journey, she wishes it all away.
The Joyful Journey of Youth
When I turned sixteen, my dad woke me up, brought me out to the driveway, and showed me the old Ford Escort he had bought for my birthday.
I hopped in, rolled down the windows, turned up the music, and rolled on down the street. I don’t remember where I went, but I remember the unmistakable excitement of belting songs out the window on a warm summer day.
I went wherever the wind would take me that summer. It didn’t matter if I was driving to work or heading out to meet friends for dinner. Every time I stepped into that vehicle, I felt a freedom I’d never felt before.
Without kids or financial obligations, the world was my oyster, and joy existed around every corner.
That joyful feeling carried me through college graduation and the first few years as a software engineer. Then, one day my happiness smacked into a wall.
Losing Sight of Joy
At twenty-seven, an unexpected medical crisis took over my life. Overnight, joy seemingly disappeared.
“When my body doesn’t ache,” I would say to myself, “then I will be happy.” But every day, I woke up with the same pain. And in that perpetual discomfort, I vowed to be miserable.
Except living in a state of misery sucks. Sitting on the edge of my bed one morning, disgusted by another day of pain medication and heat packs, I saw a fork in the road.
I had a choice to make. I could continue living in a dismal state of self-pity or search for joy in more deliberate ways.
I chose to find joy in my journey because, quite frankly, I was tired of delaying happiness for another day.
How to Find Joy in the Journey
What did I do to recapture the joy I’d lost? I started looking for joy everywhere I went.
1. Listen to Music
To begin, I started playing music again. In high school, I knew every song on the radio and traveled to big concerts in Washington, D.C.
In college, I continued that trend. On Friday and Saturday nights, my friends would hop onto the metro with me so we could listen to our favorite bands.
Somewhere between graduation and my mid-twenties, I lost sight of the music I loved. I wasn’t well enough to go to concerts, but I could still turn up the radio and sing to my heart’s content.
2. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Being sick in your twenties sucks. In addition, to my chronic pain, I felt the pain of a world going on without me.
My friends could go wherever they wanted whenever they wanted without a care in the world. I was jealous of their ability to move on with their lives without medical worries.
Comparison is the thief of joy, and each comparison robbed me of happiness. I had to push past the natural desire to compare myself to others to feel better. When I was jealous, I sat in silence with that feeling and then allowed myself to move on from it.
3. Be Grateful
I felt sorry for myself but also realized I had it better than many people I knew. For starters, my condition couldn’t kill me.
Second, my husband never faltered despite being married for only six months before getting sick. He provided emotional and physical support whenever I needed it, which wasn’t easy.
My job provided short-term disability after my surgery, and for the five months it took me to heal. When my pain didn’t improve, they allowed me to work from home most days.
Thanks to high salaries and lots of savings, I never worried about falling behind on our bills and even paid for experimental procedures to help me.
I learned to appreciate what I had rather than focus on the things that were still missing.
4. Find Joy in the Small Things
Rather than waiting for an expensive vacation or a special night out, I focused on simple pleasures. I started taking short walks when the weather was nice and opened windows to listen to the wind and the rain.
I lit candles inside the house to lift my spirits and snuggled with my cat, whose soft purr could make anyone feel better.
I found books I wanted to read and spent evenings cuddled up with my husband watching new shows.
When I felt down about life, I pulled out my journal and wrote down my worries and fears. Each time I wrote, I felt less stressed and anxious. As a side benefit, it distracted me from the pain.
In the beginning, I wrote on a pad of paper. Later I moved my journal online. That journal turned into this blog.
I wrote anonymously to share every bit of myself without my relatives reading about my pain.
6. Pay Attention To Your Feelings
It’s easy to focus on our negativity, but it’s also easy to try to brush it away. I released my negative thoughts by journaling, but speaking to a therapist would also help. So did asking myself, what might bring me joy?
What are the things you loved as a child? Do you love a good story, listening to music, or dancing in your kitchen? Do you love to cook a good meal or bake a tasty dessert?
What are the things you love to do that make your heart sing? I created a list and carved ouy time for them.
7. What Makes You Feel Alive?
All of us have something we do that makes us feel alive. When do you feel most alive? It doesn’t have to be an extreme event. As a teenager, I felt alive driving around in my car with the windows down.
As an adult, it might be going on a roller coaster or heading down a giant water slide. What is something that makes your heart race or your fingers tingle?
8. Focus on the Moment
What helped me most was focusing on this moment, not the one that might come a day, week, or month from now. I didn’t know if I would feel better, but I couldn’t waste every day waiting for a future that might never come.
Instead, I had to make the most of my days by focusing only on the current one.
When I did feel well, I celebrated a day without aches, but when I felt terrible, I stopped hoping tomorrow would be different.
The Best Way to Find Joy
Being sick caused me to slow down and reflect on the life that I was living. In a strange way, I’m glad for the medical crisis that forced me to push the pause button in life.
Before getting sick, I was in a big old hurry to get from one place to the next. I set my sights on one goal and then rushed forward to accomplish another. Now, I don’t delay joy. I search for it every day.