We kicked off 2020 with a large dose of batshit craziness. Drone strikes and missile attacks, assassination, a deadly virus, and Australia is freakin’ on fire. You may have ended 2019 vowing that 2020 will be “your year”–the year you take your life to the next level, live up to your potential, and find genuine happiness. But photos of koalas with burnt paws and sad eyes have a way of deflating even the most motivated of intentions. With the state of the world in such turmoil and with the near future looking incredibly bleak, how can you find joy?
It’s scary right now. It feels like every other day there is a mass shooting at any possible place you can think of—schools, churches, concerts, grocery stores. Nowhere is untouched by potential violence. International relations are strained thinner than your grandpa’s last grey hair in his wavering combover. And the planet. Oof, the planet is trying to shake us awake to our imminent demise unless we start to take massive action against climate change. Basically, the state of our entire future is on the line. Overwhelming much?
I’m not going to advise some bullshit positive thinking approach as a way to pat you on your sensitive head and whisper, “There, there.” This shit is bad right now. Let’s not deny it. As an individual, it feels like there is nothing you can do because you’re just one person, so you feel like throwing in the towel. But here’s the thing, the opposite of denial through positivity does not need to be absolute despair. That doesn’t help anything except for Netflix stock as you binge-watch your way into oblivion.
There is a solution available to us all that will enable us to accept reality for what it is and take a proactive approach to cultivate joy in even the worst of times. Because let’s face it, life is short, the world’s kind of fucked, and that is no reason to give up the possibility of a fulfilling and joyful life.
So how the heck do you do this? Read on, young grasshopper. For the sake of readability and the public’s love of listicles, I have organized give steps to cultivate joy in even the most chaotic of times.
1. Accept reality for what it is
If you keep denying the reality in front of you, you will not be able to cope with what is actually happening. Get your ostrich head out of the ground and look around. See the moment for what it is. Strip down the situation so that you see its knobby knees and FUPA in full light. As humans with decades of individual experiences, we add our own narrative to the truth, spinning it ever so slightly so that it matches the stories we believe about ourselves and the world. You see constant gun violence and think that the world is unsafe, people are dickholes, and nobody cares. You see constant evidence of climate change and think politicians and corporations are crooks that care more about profit than the survival of future generations.
Strip away the judgements and then accept reality. We all know what happens when you assume, so stop being an ass. Instead, look at the situation for what it is. Yes, there is gun violence. Yes, there is climate change. People care. People are trying. It is only when you are able to see exactly where you are and what a situation is with clarity that you are able to create a plan of action to get to where you want to go. Denial of reality doesn’t foster the drive for action, clarity does.
2. Practice gratitude
Okay, I can feel you eye-rolling right now. But hang on now and listen up. People often think that in order to be grateful, they have to be joyful and happy about something. The truth is, you actually cultivate joy through gratitude. And now you’re probably thinking, “Um, hey, you delusional lady, have you not seen that ONE BILLION animals have been killed in the Australian Bushfires? You want me to be grateful for that?” Heck no. I am not some crazed animal hater that gets off on burning fur.
Use the chaos as a reminder for what you do have in your life. Focus on the little things, like running water, your job, your car, having enough food to eat, your friends and family, double-ply toilet paper—the list goes on and on. It is the things that are most familiar and common in our life that we take for granted the most, and yet they are the things that we would miss the most if they were taken from us. Use bad news as a wake-up call to acknowledge the things that are still going well in your life. Appreciate them before it is too late.
3. Shift your focus
Here’s the thing, what is wrong or bad is always available to focus on, but so is what is right and good. Choose to find the benefit in the situation. In regard to the bushfires or other such natural disasters, search for the moments of kindness, humanity, and compassion. Take note of all of the folks donating, saving animals and keeping them in their cars, and pets being reunited with owners. It may be harder to see, but if you actively look, you will find moments of empathy and generosity. We tend to rise up for one another in catastrophe.
When you shift your focus so that you are more aware of the good, chaotic situations will feel more manageable. The thing we want to avoid is helplessness and despair. That is an unproductive state of being that pretty much guarantees you will transform into some Ben and Jerry’s-consuming lump of sadness. Save the ice cream for the happy times. Create those happy times by focusing on the good. You tend to get what you focus on.
4. Swap expectations for appreciation
When we focus on expectations, we are guaranteed to feel disappointed or upset. Generally, life’s reality falls short of our expectations more often than not. One of the greatest transformations you can make is to swap your expectations for appreciation, because when you get into a state of appreciation, you are able to overcome anger, fear, and anxiety.
Basically, in every single experience we have in life, we automatically compare it to how we think it should be. The odds our picture-perfect ideals falling in line with reality are slimmer than a snowball’s chance in hell (although with climate change, who knows?). By choosing to appreciate what went well in a situation you will be able to shift your mindset so that it is one of empowerment, allowing you to better shift your focus and see the good (see step 3).
5. Redefine your problems
What if every single problem you’ve ever had was life giving you an opportunity to grow and improve? Redefine problems so that you see them as opportunities for personal growth and learning. They are necessary challenges for you to improve and practice being your best self. If everything in life was smooth like soft serve, you would never practice the resilience necessary for achieving your full potential. Challenges and problems shape us. We can either fall victim to them and crap our pants with a self-doubt dookie hardened by fear or we can see them as life calling on us to step up and become better.
Problems will always exist. They will seek you out and sneak up on you when you least expect it. We cannot control what happens to us. Whenever you think you are in charge, life will give you a figurative frontal wedgie, trip you, and then laugh. There are only two things that you can control in life: your attitude and your effort. Learning to take accountability for these things will radically transform how you handle problems. It may be tough at first, but practice makes perfect. And life will be sure to give you plenty of opportunities to practice.
Cultivating joy in times of chaos comes down to mindset. Do you choose to interpret life as something that is happening for your greatest good and growth or as something that is there to nut-punch you when you have your hands full of problems, stress, and sadness? It’s a choice. The sooner you choose to see the empowering meaning, the sooner you can find joy in the most unlikely places.