I don’t have a part two planned, but I figure everything in this world is a work-in-progress, so I can only imagine my definition of joy will be, too.
I am not rich, famous, or an instagram model. I am, though, the happiest I have ever been, and have been hit with a couple “I don’t know how you do it alls” (the answer is I straight up do not do some things at the expense of others… so like, same as everyone else).
As we go to close out the decade and–consequently–also my twenties, I thought I might offer a few words of advice from my journey to joy in case anyone else is interested.
Rule #1: Be the Kind of Person People Wish Good Things Upon
(AKA Don’t be a D*ck)
This is probably the only real rule, but I’m sure I’ll come up with a few others as we go. This may be one of those “easier said than done” things, but here’s where the journey started for me: I stopped thinking mean shit about people. Or rather, if I thought something mean initially, I started hitting pause to ask two things… 1) Why does what they’re doing bother me? and 2) What are they actually doing?
As for the first, that generally caught most things to begin with. Does it bother me that they are more successful than me? That I perceive them as prettier? That I feel like they’re flaunting something? Do they remind me of me in some way–either something I don’t like, or something I wish I had?
Almost all of our relationships with the world–good, bad, or otherwise–can be broken down into that last question. We love others only because they remind us of something good about ourselves, or because they possess a trait that we admire but do not currently possess. Likewise, we resent people who remind us of things we do not like about ourselves, or possess a trait we want but aren’t willing to work to obtain.* A quick look at your friendships and relationships should tell you what you believe to be true about yourself and what you value most about yourself. So, when you are thinking negative things about the people around you (or strangers), then the real question should be: “What is this triggering for me?” Followed PROMPTLY by “How can I improve myself in order to not feel this way?”
This is tough, because it puts the onus on you, but really, you’re the only one you can control. You can’t cure other people of their shit, and if you’re trying to, it’s because you’re probably avoiding your own shit (!!! Spoiler alert: This is my Kryptonite !!!). What you can do, though, is start setting healthy boundaries (don’t worry–this is it’s own rule).
*take a second to evaluate your relationships and let me know if you can come up with a case that doesn’t fit this. Truly, I’d love to hear it!
As for the second question, I started to recognize other people’s behaviors the more and more I questioned my own motivations. Now, almost everything falls into this camp–if I think something negative about a person, it’s usually promptly followed with “they’re likely showing off in order to gain attention and praise/meddling in the affairs of others in order to avoid looking at their own pain/depriving themselves of healthy relationships because they’re afraid that they would be unworthy in a healthy one/etc. and could use a word of kindness to remind them that they’re valuable just the way they are.” (PRO TIP: this is literally almost everybody–we all could use a kind word).
Now, once I started doing this, I was able to silence that cruel inner voice (whose name was insecurity lol let’s be honest) and SOMETHING AMAZING HAPPENED. I stopped hearing it about myself, too. No longer did I worry if other people thought I was being too loud, or if I looked fat, or if I was flaunting my success. I no longer heard the narrator criticizing others, so I no longer feared the narrator in other people’s minds. This was a GREAT power which also came with a healthy dose of… you guessed it… great responsibility. Which brings me back to the subtitle of this rule–don’t be a dick. Once we’ve evaluated our behaviors in response to others and understand WHY we act certain ways in certain situations, we can control ourselves and our actions. Is someone yelling at you for something you feel is unwarranted? Check yourself. What part of this conversation is on you? If you’ve done the basics to ensure that you’re truly innocent in this, then maybe bro is just having a really bad day. Should he take it out on you? Nope. But if you respond with kindness, perhaps you could turn his day around.
I’ve talked about Karma and other mystic shit before so I won’t deep dive into it, but since this applies to most belief systems, I’ll start here: When a bunch of people think you’re an asshole and are like “Man, I hope he gets what’s coming to him” then all that rotten energy will somehow manifest the WHAT that is coming for you. It may come in the form of a bad review, or lack of recommendation, or straight up somebody slashing your tires (who knows! The opportunities are endless!).
LIKEWISE if people think kindly of you, or even neutrally about you, then the reviews are good, and people will rejoice when they see you succeed. There will be folks who struggle with your success, but because you’ve already moved through step one, you’ll understand that their anger has nothing to do with you at all, but is a reflection of where they are in this moment (so treat them with kindness!). This is how you will not only be able to build the life full of joy you want, but also build one hell of a tribe that has your back ALWAYS.
Rule #2: Sow the Seeds
AKA F*ck ‘Tunnel Vision’
This is a continuation of the first rule because #everythingiscyclical but tunnel vision is the antithesis to all success and the killer of joy. Nothing in this life is permanent. Everything we do is a part of a chapter. Sometimes we have a tough time turning the page, but it’s best not to linger too long in a story that no longer fits.
Now that I’ve got those writing metaphors out of the way… here’s the thing: We have a tendency to act like RIGHT NOW is also FOREVER. So, you see someone else doing something you wish you could do and you think “I WANT THAT SO BAD I HATE THEM” — maybe check yourself before you wre… okay, you get it. This is the rule: if you want it, figure out what you need to do to get it, and start sowing the seeds. It can be slow. You don’t have to make some crazy abrupt change and pretend you have amnesia and run away from all your problems to become who you want to be… you can just start working on whatever skill you need to possess, slowly and surely. If you love it, the time will be there. If you’re passionate about something, it will GIVE YOU energy. You’ll be able to work 80 hours a week and then straight up not sleep the rest of the time because that’s when you get to do what you love. You hustle, you side hustle, and maybe one day you’ll wake up and realize you were someone you liked all along.
Back to metaphors: You are not a tree, you can move. If you don’t, you run the risk of going postal and setting fire to yourself and all of the other trees around you (!!!).
There’s a lot of power in the word “yet.” You may not have it yet. You may not be where you want yet. But if you’re making steps in that direction–even if it’s in your free time–you can sure as hell give tunnel vision a big middle finger and recognize that you have time (and if you get hit by a bus, then you were at least on your way toward your goals).
Rule #3: Figure Out What Matters, and Cut the Rest Loose.
We hang on too long. We know relationships and self-identifying traits don’t fit anymore, and we will contort and compromise ourselves to fit into our old skin for as long as humanly possible such that, by the time we break free, we can’t quite recognize the shape we’ve become (metaphors!).
Life is an incubator. We’re all just hanging out in our cocoons getting ready to blossom into butterflies or whatever and anybody who loves you will be eager to see what you look like with your shiny new wings (seriously, metaphors…). If they don’t, it’s on them (seeeeeee rule 1). Likewise, if someone outgrows you, then you should be glad to know the contribution you made to help launch them in the right direction because by now you’re killing everybody you know with kindness–even if sometimes that means kindly telling someone they have to step up and become the best versions of themselves or else you’re going to have to draw the line for what’s healthy for you (look! another circle!).
These are the boundaries I was talking about earlier. They apply to people, they also apply to things. Fill your life with things that bring you actual joy. You don’t have to Marie Kondo it and give everything away, either. I find a TON of joy in Iris’ toys because they symbolize this chapter of our lives. The day will come when the toys are donated and baby girl is off living her own life, spreading her gorgeous butterfly wings while mama and daddy wave from their front porch, so I can stomach a season of stuffed animals and obnoxiously noisy tools.
Sometimes we have difficult decisions to make and the opportunity cost of choosing one over the other is HIGH. But when we straddle that line and hang on for too long, we don’t just hurt ourselves, we hurt the people depending on us, and we also hurt the person who would be next-in-line. As I mentioned with great ideas, sometimes we are not the final destination for a person, a hobby, or a thing. By not letting go, we aren’t letting them move on to where they belong, and we aren’t making room for whomever is next in line to take our spot.
I’ve spoken about crafting a life you don’t want to escape from, but it’s easy to say “add in the stuff that fills your heart!” Harder, then, is emptying your life of the stuff that does not. So I’m challenging you to identify what matters most to you, make a plan for who you want to be (Rule 2!), and then decide what and who is helping you move toward that goal. Then as kindly as possible, cut the rest loose.
Rule #4: Live Life Point Forward.
There are only so many things we can control. We’ve all made mistakes, and some of those have life altering consequences for us and for others, but those kinds of mistakes come with a heavy weight that usually pulls us back in–back toward the person we used to be, back toward the life we no longer want to live.
Spend the next week evaluating. Tell everyone you need to that you’re sorry and mean it, then start living your life. We can no longer alter the past, so the question becomes, “What can we do right now and every day forward to be better?”
Life is moving forward. We make decisions with the information we have, and sometimes it doesn’t pan out. That’s okay. Move forward. Look back long enough to ask what you can do to prevent it in the future, and then turn that gaze on the horizon, my friend. What is in your control now? What can you do from here on out?
Live your life from this point forward, always, and beautiful things will come your way.
Rule #5: Contrarily, Live Live Looking Back.
As in, anytime you get mad or frustrated, pretend you’re dead for a second and imagine how stupid this trivial thing would be. If it’s a BIG thing, then imagine how MAD you’d be that you wasted your time tolerating this stupid thing.
Rules #6: Forgive Easily.
Forgive yourself first. Forgive yourself for being young and dumb, for hurting people because you couldn’t see how much they cared, and for not making the best investment in your future. You’re always looking back from the eyes of who you are now, so take the time to forgive yourself for the who you needed to be in order to get here (Mouthful, but not a metaphor!). Forgive yourself for not always being on, and for sometimes needing a break, and for not keeping the house clean (literally speaking to myself here). Forgive yourself for being too hard on yourself, and accepting when others were too hard on you. Self-forgiveness is the first step toward true self-love.
Forgive your mom and dad. To varying degrees, they really mucked some things up, some worse than others. Some of them didn’t have the care they needed in order to give you the care you deserved. Some tried to get better and relapsed. Some are still so caught up in their own negativity that they can’t be happy for anyone, even you. Some ignored, some forgot, some disappeared, some died. Some just smothered you, or were too strict or too lenient. It’s okay to cut a parent loose if they are toxic for you, but you must also forgive them for not being able to be the person you needed them to be. For some, they’re caught in the tunnel. It would be too painful to really accept the truth of their behavior, so they will have to deny it forever. As painful as this is for you, you have to accept it. You don’t have to forget, and you can build appropriately sized boundaries to protect yourself, but do your best to forgive. For your sake.
Forgive that one guy who really f*cked you up. If not for him (he may not deserve it), then for yourself. (Lather, rinse, repeat, as many times as necessary depending on the length of this list).
While you’re at it, forgive that one girl, too. (Rinse. Repeat.)
There’s a lot to this, but please hear me: Bitterness is a choice. We grow bitter because we do not like how someone has treated us, and haven’t spoken up. We are angry at them for treating us poorly, and angry at ourselves for not stopping it. Resentment will poison any relationship you have. Let it go. Set it free. Sit down and have the hard talks, and do it with as much kindness as you can. If you love someone, you should never want to hurt them, and you should never want to see them fail (if you do either of these things, seriously, go back to Rule 1 and start looking inward).
Forgive them, and forgive yourself for accepting what you thought you deserved.
This is what I have for now, so I will leave you with this: You’re an incredible, unique individual with a whole lot to offer this world, and it is unfair to the rest of us if you or anyone else holds you back. You belong in every room you enter. You are more than the sum of your parts. You can have everything your soul really, really wants once you set yourself free of what others want for you. Be humble. Have faith. Take things in stride, and keep moving forward. And as always, heed the lovely advice of sir Walt Whitman: