Monday, June 10, 2024

On Feeling Joy

Happy Monday! I fly to NYC this morning and come back Wednesday night. I haven’t traveled since mid-May. I really needed this break after my cluster of travel in April/May. I will never cluster travel together like that (I traveled 3 of 4 weeks for work but if you include our Destin trip I traveled 4 of 5 weeks) again if I can avoid it because it was not good for anyone. But onwards and upwards. I have 2 trips in June and 2 in July and then hope to take August off.

I’ve got a bit of a weightier post today about joy. It’s something I thought about during my long run (6 miles) along the paths of Lake Harriet and Bada Maka Ska on Saturday morning.

The idea of joy was on my mind because I had read Melissa of Brighton Jotter’s Good Things Friday post before my run and she commented on the feeling of joy she felt while watching her adult children work on a puzzle with her husband/their dad which sounds like such a lovely scene, especially since I love puzzles! I can completely picture that ‘my cup runneth over’ joyful kind of feeling.

On my run I got to thinking about the last time I felt an emotion I would describe as joy. One thing you should know about me is that I am not very emotional. As Phil says, we ‘stay in the meaty part of the bell curve of emotions,’ meaning we are kind of ‘steady Eddie’ kinds of people. We don’t experience super high highs but also don’t tend to experience super low lows. So I am kind of not really prone to feel joy. It’s kind of a nice way to live because the mountains and valleys sound quite volatile. But I was wracking my brain a bit to identify joyful times. 

I did have a joy-like fist-bumping feeling after a couple of really good client meetings in Dallas last month. The advisor we met with was very smart and asked great questions that really made me think. When we left the meeting I said, ‘gosh I love my job’ to the sales rep I was traveling with. It was a fulfilling moment and joy-like.

Beyond that, I felt joy watching Paul’s kindergarten music program last month…

Paul is front and center in his cute pink polo. Their concert was so dang cute. I grinned ear-to-ear the whole time.

And I’ve felt joy watching Taco do imaginative pretend play at the goose house in our neighborhood. 

And I felt pretty joyful leaving the kids with the sitter for our anniversary date night last month. 

But the time I felt pure and utter days-on-end joy was on my Banff trip last August with my good friend Amber. We had the best time hiking and saw some awe-inspiring views. And I only had myself to care for which was such a good feeling for a change.

I feel a bit of shame that the most joy-filled time I can think of was away from my family. Part of the joy was from being in such a gorgeous area and part of it was not having anyone depending on me (neither work nor young children). But we couldn’t really do that kind of trip with my kids at their ages - I know other families go on big adventures but we’ve decided it’s not worth spending money on big adventures until the boys are older and heartier and can handle some hiking, for example. Nor is it easy to do these kind of trips with just Phil as it’s a lot to ask my parents to care for our young kids. 

That said it’s not as if I am not happy. I am most days, although I have really struggled with irritability now that I am on a bit of a higher dose of steroids again. Prednisone makes me feel awful but I need it to manage the pain of the flare. So I am kind of stuck in this place of heightened annoyance and limited bandwidth while being frustrated that my RA won’t behave itself despite being on several drugs. I start infusions this week and they should make a huge difference but I’m not expecting immediate results and will probably have to be patient.

Right now, joyful feelings kind of feel like a bridge too far until my disease is better managed and I am off or at least on a much lower dose of steroids. I guess a subtitle of this post could be ‘steroids are awful’ or ‘steroids are not compatible with joy.’ I fear I will be on steroids for several more months so for the time being I want to try to find little bits of joy where I can, kind of like Elisabeth’s joy-finding posts. I’ll probably have to really look for joy because my general state of mind is, well, kind of melancholy with a side of irritability (I sound really fun to be around, don’t I?).

But after my run I did text Amber and our other friend Kelly to say - we need to do a Banff type of meet up next summer because I need a joyful series of days. And I am encouraging Phil to do a guys’ golf weekend this summer so he can ‘fill his cup’ or ‘put on his own oxygen mask.’ But those cup-filling experiences will happen while the other parent solo parents. 

And I am reminding myself that it won’t always be this way. I won’t always be on prednisone, my disease will be better managed, and we will reach a less physically demanding and boundary pushing stage of parenting.

Are you prone to feelings of joy or more ‘steady Eddie’ like me? What is the last experience that brought you joy?


Grateful Kae said...

I think I am definitely more emotional than you are, but I also don’t think I am the MOST emotional type, either. I think I am more “sentimental” than anything. Like I’m not a super moody “stereotypical woman” who gets all emotional and super dramatic or things like that. But I think I can jump into “Joy” category quite easily and also can tear up easily if I find something touching or sentimental (I teared up when they announced the seniors in the high school play last year and none of them were my own children! It just was a sweet/sentimental moment and it got me! But stuff like this happens often for me… hehehe.) I think I am overall pretty easily pleased though in general and am someone who will be like “wow, that was really great!” or “that’s really beautiful!” maybe more often than other people. That being said, I have a big pessimistic/worrier side to me, too. So it’s not like everything is roses, either. lol!

Birchwood Pie said...

There's nothing like a long run for thinking thoughts!

Listen, you don't have to explain the part about feeling joy away from your family - I GET IT. To paraphrase Elisabeth's post, the time away from family is a very reliable source of oxygen. I'm heading home today after a 10 day solo vacation, and it's been one solid joy fest. If I'd spent the past 10 days at home of course there would have been lots of joyful things, but it would also have been 10 days of the work/family drudge that is this season of life. I needed the oxygen infusion of this trip. Now mind you, it wouldn't work to stay in the oxygen tent all of the time, but I did need the recharge.

Kyria @ Travel Spot said...

This is such an interesting topic. I think that everything is so relative, and it is so interesting to me how one person's joy can be another one's nightmare. So interesting! I am in Canmore with the girls right now and am not having exactly the same thoughts as you, but I am having a bit of a struggle with trying to be more "in the moment" and enjoying or getting joy from things. In my case, I was happy that the girls were going to meet me here and was really looking forward to it, but they are a lot. K always wants to fill every moment with stuff and her and her friend want to go do all the touristy things (which I really am not a huge fan of) and the girls are bickering and eating too much candy and yelling and jumping around...and I am starting to look forward to being alone. But then I tell myself that this time spent together is priceless and when they are gone, I will miss them and wish we were together...So I should be enjoying where we are now! But sometimes I want to hide in my room! However, I spent like 10 minutes the other day at a beautiful lake trying to get the perfect jump photo with L and it was so fun. So there is joy interspersed with some of the annoyance, and probably more of the former than the latter.

Melancholy with a side of irritability; that sounds like liver and onions and kind of made me laugh; I don't think you are quite as bad as you think you are! I think you are very matter of fact, even keeled, and Phil definitely is! I am like you guys, not really super excited or upset most of the time. I was also told last night that I have a good poker face, but I am being compared to my friend K, who wears her emotions on her sleeve. I am the reliable, solid, stoic one in most of my friend groups, but I am never the "fun" one! :) The world needs more emotional middles of the curves, what with the news shouting negativity and Tik Tok shouting excitement all the time. Everything is so extreme!

NGS said...

I am definitely a person who lives in the middle of the bell curve of emotions, too. I feel happy and content a lot, but joy is a bit harder. I'm constantly on the lookout for things that bring me happiness and I feel like happiness finding is a lot easier for me than joy finding.

I hope that the infusions make your life so much better! Imagine what it will look like for you at this time next year - steroids long in the past, hopefully.

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

If I could give you a hug right now, I would. Please imagine a very firm embrace right now, full of love and empathy. Here are my (lengthy, I'm sorry!) thoughts. A) Thank you for sharing this, because, as Elisabeth said recently, there are moments of happiness and moments of challenge and they simply don't exist in isolation. I think that's a good reminder for all of us, especially in a world so saturated with heavily curated social media. (And that includes blog posts! Sometimes I make an effort to be Only Chipper in my posts even if that isn't reflective of reality, you know?) B) You are in a tough stage of life. The kids are high needs right now, your RA is high needs, your job is high needs. That doesn't leave a lot of room for a lot of joy. Which is why it's wonderful to take mental snapshots of the times you do feel joy. C) I don't know that it's possible to have long periods of sustained joy? Maybe some people are wired to be joyful for extended periods, but I'm sure not. I think I'm always in a low key state of anxiety or worry, and so joy is pretty fleeting, even if it's more frequent in some life stages than in others. D) Being a parent is amazing and it is gratifying to find those joyful moments just watching our kids learn and grow and play. But parenting is A SLOG, LISA. I wish I could absolve you of all guilt in feeling like you don't take enough joy in your kids. You clearly DO take joy and pride in their lives, but even if you didn't that's okay. Raising kids is hard. And you are dealing with a lot of stuff on top of parenting! E) Ack, I'm sorry this is so long, and maybe this point won't make any sense at all, but when I reflect on joy it doesn't usually seem participatory, it seems observational. Like watching my kid and husband interact brings me joy, but I'm outside of that looking in. I think the only times I feel pure participatory joy are solitary: when I'm out walking on a beautiful day, when I'm caught in the hyperfocus of writing flow. Otherwise, it seems like I'm always feeling joy as an onlooker. But maybe the word for that isn't joy, but gratitude.

Okay, clearly you've hit a chord with me on this topic. And I'm sorry for getting so defensive of you and your very normal feelings. You are doing a great job during a very challenging set of circumstances. I love that you are planning another trip with your friends and that you are making sure Phil gets time alone, too.

Elisabeth said...

Ditto basically everything above (I love Birchie's idea of an oxygen tent - I am there this week, taking 5 days away from parenting to hide out at my parent's isolated house in the woods on a lake; wouldn't Thoreau be impressed).

I think I feel joy in batches; there are seasons of life that lend themselves to moments of joy. I am NOT in the middle of the bell curve, though. I am very emotional and always have been. My mother is the same way. I have a sister like you, though. She is so smack-dab in the middle of the bell curve it amazes me. I WANT TO BE HER SO BADLY. She is a realist, but just so, so practical and pragmatic and I would literally die after about a day in her incredibly busy (4 kids, homeschools, runs two businesses, and is very social) life, but she is an inspiration to me!!!

I would say my husband is a middle of the curve, guy, too. Occasionally he'll deviate...but he also doesn't menstruate and for me at least that plays a big role in how I'm feeling in any given week.

I love you so much Lisa and this is just such a hard season of life. You're doing a great job juggling so many demands on your time and energy (big career, little kids, the ongoing and perpetual stress of dealing with a chronic medical issue). You inspire me on the regular, friend <3

One more thought - on this outrageously long comment. Also, though you're in the middle of the bell curve, I feel like your life isn't (if that makes sense). Taco throws a fit and you have to leave a school event. Kids get sick (a lot). You're travelling. You lost such a dear and special person in your life recently. Then you get to see Paul singing or have a great run or land a major client deal. So you life is more the outlying extremes right now?

Kat said...

Yes to everything "Life of a Doctor's Wife" said. You are amazing and doing a great job. It's OK to not find joy in everything. Joy is not in everything! And that's the beauty of have to look for joy. If joy was everywhere all the time it wouldn't be joyful!

Stephany said...

Love this post, Lisa! I really admire people who are even-keeled because that is not my experience at all. I have allll of the emotions and it would be nice to be a little more "steady Eddie" than I am.

I think there is something to be said about finding joy apart from your family. With the Banff trip, you were away from work and the drudgery of routine. You were doing something you love (hiking) with your best friend you haven't seen face-to-face in a long time. You didn't have the expectations of work and parenthood and partnership on you. No wonder you were feeling so joyful! I think that's normal.

One of the recent moments of joy was during game night with my mom and brother on Saturday. My brother said something that just made me cry with laughter, and it was a sweet moment of connection and pure joy with my two favorite people!

Nicole said...

I read this post this morning and wanted to take the time to really craft a thoughtful comment, because it is such a thoughtful post. So I have been meditating on this all day!
First of all, what brings you joy brings you joy, and there is no need to feel that something SHOULD bring you joy or to feel shame that something doesn't. We are all different and what brings one person joy could push another person over the edge (I'm thinking of tent camping, I have a girlfriend who absolutely loves it and it makes me feel like dying).
Some people are just more emotion-swinging than others, as well, and that's just life! We are all different. You are a very busy woman who is in the thick of parenting young children and working a fulfilling but very demanding job with lots of travel - and to top it off, you have a disease that causes you chronic pain. I can imagine how hard it is to find joy when you are constantly in pain, or, if you're on steroids for the pain, sleepless.
I honestly do not remember much about when my kids were babies, which is one of the things no one tells you when you have two under two. But one thing I do remember is the dissonance between what I THOUGHT going to the playground with little kids would be like and what it was actually like. It was not joyful.
I am currently reading a book called Momfluencers and it is so interesting to read about the change in expectations due to momfluencers. What people post and what the reality is are two different things. I think I'm going to write an entire post on this, and how it relates to joy (I will link back to you of course!). It's fascinating to think about how this affects parenting. When my kids were babies I didn't even have a smartphone, let alone social media. I think I got an instagram account when they were like 9 and 10 or something, and so the momfluencer thing really passed me by. I do remember the mommy blogs though and those I found so affirming and helpful, and they did not make me feel like I "should" be doing anything a particular way, in the way that the momfluencers can make the young moms feel like these days.
Is this the longest comment I have ever left? Maybe! But I still have more to say.
I am a pretty joyful person but I'm not really a "low low" kind of gal. I think I just operate on a generally happy plane, and I attribute that to having kind of an easy life. It's not to say that I don't have sadness or grief or difficulties or anything like that, of course I do, but I have always had a pretty stable life so I tend to "ride high," and what I have learned over the years is to be empathetic to people who have had to walk a much tougher path. Does that make sense?
I find a lot of joy in nature, I am constantly in awe of the outdoors, and I was like that even in Calgary! I do find a lot of joy in my family too, but let's remember things are pretty easy at this stage. Rex brings me a great deal of joy too, his general happiness at literally everything is infectious.
tl;dr, don't beat yourself up for not being a SUPER JOYFUL POLLYANNA ALL THE TIME! You are in a tricky stage right now, but there will be a time after this. And even if you are not overcome by joy all the time, well, that's just a part of the wonderful, beautiful, smart, warm person that you are. We don't all need to be running around singing that the hills are alive with the sound of music, you know?

Jenny said...

Oooh... great post. I'm definitely more of an "up and down" person. But I can totally relate to the stage you're in right now- it reminds me of phases where I'm injured. LIKE, the recent sprained ankle. I muddled along just fine and tried to find little moments of joy, but it was all against the backdrop of a low-level depression. So yes- the phase you are in is NOT PERMANENT. Just keep reminding yourself of that fact. It will end! Things will get better.
Don't feel bad AT ALL about admitting the joy you felt in Banff. Kids are just hard. Yes, we all feel joy when we look at our kids playing, or watch them in a concert, etc. Overall, kids bring us joy. But- not in the everyday grind. It's just hard, and that sense of freedom you get when you finally have time to yourself is something I'm pretty sure every mom feels.
Also... it sounds like you and Phil are the perfect match. Think how annoying it would be if one of you were super moody. I think people who are on an even keel should be with another person like that. Good thing you found each other!

Jeanie said...

Golly, LIsa. This is definitely a thinkie post. I tend to live as much as possible on the happy scale-- maybe not always joy, which I think of as super happy beyond words! But pretty happy. I learned a long time ago in theatre to keep a smile on your face and keep tapping, even if you mess up the steps. Somehow I think I was born with a sense of optimism (which often drives people nuts who aren't!) But there are times when it is hard to find it, that smile, that joy. Chronic illness, as you pointed out so beautifully, packs a big wallop in the joy-o-meter. I sometimes tease Rick that he is a bit of a curmudgeon -- his cup tends to be half full on a lot of things. And then he'll get on something and it's like a pitbull gnashing -- he doesn't let it go. That not only drives me nuts, it brings me down -- or maybe it's better to say that it's not where I get my joy bursts, although we do have a wonderfully compatible time together most of the time. I am the "up" and he is the opposite but we meet in the middle and that works for us. But I suspect part of that is because we can go to our own corners (or houses) if it's just too gloomy. I have fun with the grands, good times, but I wouldn't call them joy moments. I absolutely do not see how parents like you can be with them all the time, rain or shine, temper tantrums and dinner time. Hat's off to you! The joyful moments that most come to mind are usually involved with travel experiences, although I did feel true joy when I held the book I had worked so hard on in my hands at long last. And quite often at the lake that feeling creeps in, joy combined with gratitude. I think it is important to find joy like that you described on holiday with Amber. Friendships do bring me great joy as well. I know I'll be thinking about this one, long after I push "send."

Coco said...

Very interesting reflection. I like the feeing of being joyful, it's a tempered happiness from small joy that only I get to enjoy and appreciate, may not be relevant for others and I don't care they don't get it. It's true that we can't get them when we are rushed. I have to pause and slowdown to find them. My latest ones:
- seeing how girls enjoy their friends for the last time last sunday
- reading a passage in a book about expat life, and feeling understood
- insider joke with a friend
- getting a pic of me with my BFF from 20 years ago
- sunrise pink sky

katielookingforward said...

Externally I perform as if all is well, internally my actual feelings tend to run a little lower. But I do feel a sense of contentment at different points throughout the week, which makes me feel good even if I'm not hitting "joy" levels of happiness very often.

Sophie said...

Such an interesting, reflective post. Lisa, I am also in the meaty part of the emotions bell curve, so I get it. I rarely cry from happiness, I’m pretty quick to pick myself up and see the positive from a set-back.
And I usually have to actively look for joy (mostly I stay in the more sedate “content” part of the spectrum with my family).
I’ll just echo other comments saying you are going through a challenging period (and steroids!) so it’s not as easy to find joy, but you are doing great from where I’m reading, despite this. Those joyful moments sound lovely and I would have found the Banff trio full of joy too, especially because solo fun time with friends with that level of freedom is so rare at our stage of life.
Brooke McAlary is a thoughtful writer on these topics (with a chronic illness), she did a podcast episode on joy recently and also writes on Substack (it’s called The Tortoise), podcast link is here:

Coree said...

I do think the chronic illness plays a huge role, and kind of sneaks up on those of us who have relatively well managed autoimmune diseases. We're used to an underlying level of pain... which I think can tinge everything else, even the good stuff. And the unpredictable nature is super hard - is this going to go away in 2 weeks or is this the new normal?

I am turning 40 this year and felt quite profoundly bored with my life in the winter (which... I mean, is it a midlife crisis or am I just a Californian existing too far north?). Like I have a good marriage, lovely, a lovely easy kid and our family is complete, a perm academic job, so it felt like I had ticked all the boxes. So I'm trying to think about what challenges I can add..

Mom of Children said...

Are you prone to feelings of joy or more ‘steady Eddie’ like me? What is the last experience that brought you joy?

What an insightful post. I am definitely a very steady person. There definitely are moments of joy, but they are small, every day things. So instead of feeling ecstatic, I feel more grateful, and just quietly say thank you to myself for things and moments that occur. I do not know what extreme joy feels like.
About feeling the guilt about a solo trip- same. When I went to visit a friend in Poland, it was wonderful, and I needed that.

San said...

OMG, the amount of thinking I do on long runs... I am not surprised this happened to you too :)

This is a very interesting post, Lisa, and gave me something to think about.

I think, happiness, contentedness, and joy are very much related and depend a little bit on the nuanced interpretation of each person. I don't remember the last time I had a "joy explosion", but I do experience "quiet joy and contentedness" in seemingly simple situations (and usually realize it when I notice that I smile.

You surely do not have to apologize for experiencing joy away from your family and busy life. I think these are the quiet moments when we have the brain-space to step back and really acknowledge joy. I am sure you have moments of joy at home with your boys, too, but the moment is more fleeting .I really loved how Suzanne talked about participatory and observational joy - such a clever way of distinction and you can probably relate to that, especially with your kids.

I think overall I am a high-riding "steady Eddie"... I am generally a happy and positive person (I think being positive helps!), although I can get melancholy sometimes, but I haven't really experienced any real extended lows in my life. I am thankful for that.

Melissa said...

I am very much the middle of the bell curve emotionally too, in that I don't generally experience very high lows or very high highs. (I come out as an INTJ on the Myers-Brigs so this makes perfect sense). That being said I tend towards the happier end and am usually an optimist. This is probably because I've had a very stable, happy life, without major tragedies. My son tends to experience extreme emotions and I found that pretty challenging.

I don't think you should feel any shame about a holiday which was such a joyful experience for you because it was away from the family. Relentless responsibilities can drag us down and certainly crowd out opportunities for joy and the bandwidth to notice and appreciate them. I have many more quiet moments of contentment and small joys (like the one with my family puzzling) than big explosions of joy. The trick, I guess, is to make sure we notice them when they occur and you are doing that even while dealing with RA and the side effects of treatment. I applaud you for that.

Laila said...

This week I realized my RA meds are starting to work. I'm not waking up with finger or foot pain, woohoo!! That along with my knee shots got me feeling great. I was able to do yoga and some other workouts. So remember, the good times are coming. Nothing last forever.