If you read last week’s Everyday Nostalgia post, Find Your Must, you might remember my daughter Zoey asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. My response? I wanted to be like her, because she believes anything is possible.
While that’s a good reason to want to be like her, it’s just one of many. To me, she has some of the most enviable qualities possible. I especially love the fact that:
— She is kind. —
I remember when Zoey would come home from day care with notes from her teachers saying how she wasn’t napping because she was too busy walking around to all the other kids and rubbing their backs to help them fall asleep.
As she’s gotten older, this quality has grown and developed with her. The other night, after I came home from a particularly rough day, Zoey busied herself about, assembling an assortment of things she knew would help. With a tissue, she wiped my tears. A stuffed animal was handed to me for comfort. A glass of water was set in front of me because she ‘knew my throat would hurt’ from crying. When I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her into my lap, her little hands held my face, and then, after kissing the tears away from each of my cheeks, she pulled back and asked, “All I ever want is for you to be happy. What else can I do?”
Understandably, the crying didn’t stop—albeit now they had turned to tears of love for this amazingly kind soul.
— She is brave. —
Last summer, Zoey jumped off a 4-foot high diving board after never having been on one. I asked her if she wanted me up there with her, and she looked at me for a second before glancing back toward the board, pondering my offer.
“I’ve got this,” she said.
Determined, she marched her tiny, less than 40-lb self right up to the top of that board as I swam to the middle of the deep end to catch her. I looked at her ever-so-determined face, smiled and called up to her, “You’re so right. You’ve totally got this.”
And she went to the edge and jumped.
After this one successful jump, she did it another 15 times. 15. She’d have probably done it 15 more times if I hadn’t cried uncle after having to tread water and doggy-paddle around that pool for half an hour. For a few days after that, I couldn’t lift my arms higher than my shoulders and every step hurt, but it was worth it for the look of sheer joy and pride that stayed on her face all afternoon.
— She is joyful. —
It wouldn’t surprise me to find Zoey’s name next to the word “joy” in the dictionary. That picture up there at the top of this post? That’s her, and that’s what she looks like pretty much all. the. time. She laughs in her sleep. She comes home almost every day, sets down her backpack, throws her hands in the air, and calls out, “Home, sweet home!” She thinks helping me clean our home is fun. She wakes up full of energy, a smile on her face, ready to tackle the day. When I ask her why she is so happy, she says, “Why wouldn’t I be?” or “Because I am with you!” or “I had a dream about unicorns and rainbows!” or “I’m hungry, and I just realized I get to eat breakfast soon!” These simple reasons are perfect reminders that happiness doesn’t come in big, shiny packages; happiness can be found in small moments that prove to be more precious than gold.
* * *
Science backs up the fact that nostalgia is a powerful thing. Nostalgia expert Constantine Sedikides talks of nostalgia as the “perfect internal politician, connecting the past with the present, pointing optimistically to the future” and a mental state “absolutely central to human experience.” Certainly a compelling reason for you to want to look further into making nostalgia part of your everyday life.
And for most of us, some of our strongest nostalgia is tied to our childhoods. When we look back to those days, we are often nostalgic about the experiences we had (“Remember the time we went to Disney World?”) or for the simple moments (“Remember how we used to catch fireflies in jars on warm summer nights?”) or for people we knew (“Remember how Aunt Mary would make the best pecan pie for Thanksgiving every year?”). But it seems like we don’t tend to be nostalgic about who we were back then.
When I was writing this week’s Everyday Nostalgia post, I thought about who I was as a child. And I remembered being all the things that I admire so much about my own daughter: I was kind… I was brave… I was joyful.
And then I thought about who I am today. I know I am kind (especially to others, and I’m working on being kinder to myself). I know I am brave, because I take risks and challenge myself and am okay with facing change and the unknown head on. I know I am joyful… I mean, I think I am.
But the more and more I thought about it, the more I wondered if I really was as joyful as I thought.
Since I started this blog, I’ve been better about actively pursuing joy, but my days have a tendency to blur together as I do the same thing over and over on the days I don’t have Zoey—wake up, work, make dinner, blog, work a little more, go to bed—not really paying that close attention to things other than what I need to be focusing on. (When I have Zoey, of course she is priority one and, as you can imagine, her joy is infectious on those days). But when she’s not with me, I ask myself: Am I really like Zoey? Zoey’s other amazing qualities—like her resilience, her curiosity, and her wonder—most likely stem from her ability to find joy in her days and appreciate life and all the beauty it holds. Of course I recognize it’s easier for children to be joyful as they have less of life’s complications and responsibilities, but it made me think: why can’t we, as adults, actively try to make joy an everyday decision, an everyday feeling, an everyday experience?
* * *
And so I started to wonder if there was a lesson I could take away from this. If I actively chose to live a more intentional, joy-filled life, what would happen? I decided to take this week to try to make that choice. I knew it probably wasn’t going to be as easy as it was for my daughter (because let’s face it, I can’t remember the last time I had a dreamed of unicorns and rainbows), but I was determined to rise to the challenge (putting my bravery into practice). Reminding myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day, I decided to start small (see, I even practiced being kind to myself, too!).
I began every day this week with music, as it is something that has always brought me joy. I created a playlist of happy songs and played them while I showered. I listened to it while I got ready, and when Zoey appeared in the doorway to the bathroom after she woke up, I picked her up and danced around with her. We sang to the radio as I drove her to school, and on my way into work (I was that person, in my car, singing at the top of my lungs). After a week, this song was a strong standout in really making me feel good:
Listening to music first thing in the morning was a small change from my usual routine, but this slight deviation—this slight effort to bring joy into my life—really made a difference. By making my mornings more joyful, I was able to take a more positive approach to the rest of my day.
As I learned from my own experience this week, taking steps to live a more joy-filled life really can be quite simple. Would you like to be more joyful in your life? Here are some ways to start:
* * *
The other day when I picked Zoey up from school, the only parking space I could find was down the street. I found myself slightly frustrated as I walked in the freezing air toward the building, wind whipping against me. I don’t hate much of anything, but I hate being cold. When I got inside, I bundled Zoey up and told her we needed to be quick as we made the trek back to the car. I opened the door for her and asked her to get in while I opened the front door to set down her backpack and lunchbox.
“We can’t get in the car yet!” Zoey cried out.
Thinking something was wrong, I quickly turned around, only to find her with her head tipped back and her arm outstretched toward the sky. I looked up. There were clouds, but nothing else.
“Come on, Zoey,” I said. “It’s just the clouds. Besides, it’s too cold to be out here. Can you please get in the car?” I gave her that look that said, Don’t argue with me.
“No, Mommy, seriously. Look!” She started jumping up and down as she kept pointing up.
“Zoey, seriously, it’s just clouds.”
“But they’re not JUST clouds. They’re CUMULUS clouds. They’re white… and they’re big… and they’re FLUFFY. I’m learning about them in school, and look, there they are, right there. Aren’t they so beautiful?”
I listened to Zoey’s animated discussion about the magic of clouds and how they worked. Although the sun had nearly disappeared from the sky, I could see her eyes shining, her smile spread wide across her cheeks, and her excitement pouring out of her face and hands and fingertips. Everything about her in that moment was joyful.
Because I was trying to choose joy, instead of rushing her into the car, I pulled her close and tilted my head back to look at those clouds again. And, of course, she was right: They were white. They were big. They were fluffy. They were beautiful. I remembered what it was like as a child to find wonder in things disguised as something else and in the moments that might seem ordinary. I remembered that if we want to be able to choose joy, we have to be open to its existence in the first place.
In that cold, quiet moment, as I held my daughter’s tiny hand in mine and shared in her joy, I found some of my own.
I squeezed her little fingers in agreement. “You’re right, sweet pea.”
“I told you,” she said. I heard the smile in her voice as she squeezed mine back. “You just have to remember to pay attention.”
* * *
Zoey, my fingers are crossed that the internet will exist when you’re older, so you’ll be able to Google up this post on some (most likely) embedded chip on your arm (or hey, even BackRub it — you never know, Google might rebrand again). But hopefully you will read posts like these, these little love letters I write to you… I shared these stories of you with the world because I wanted to share with everyone just how lucky I felt to have the privilege of having you as my daughter, and because I wanted to let you know just how much I learned from you every single day. I’m pretty sure you’re the best teacher I’ve ever had.
Week 4 Suggested Reading
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama explore the Nature of True Joy in this “sparkling, wise” book, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. They confront each of the Obstacles of Joy—from fear, stress, and anger to grief, illness, and death, and then offer the Eight Pillars of Joy, which provide the foundation for lasting happiness. Throughout, they include stories, wisdom, and science. Finally, they share their daily Joy Practices that anchor their own emotional and spiritual lives.
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Just joining me on my journey? Catch up on the Everyday Nostalgia series here.