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3 Ways to Cultivate Joy

Be joyful because it is humanly possible. Wendell Berry The slogan for my 50PlusReinvented project and website is, “Aging is Inevitable. Growth is optional.” Why do most of us relate pain or at the very least, risk, to growth? Perhaps we’ve unconsciously connected the two concepts of pain and growth by framing life in cliches […]

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Be joyful because it is humanly possible.

Wendell Berry

The slogan for my 50PlusReinvented project and website is, “Aging is Inevitable. Growth is optional.” Why do most of us relate pain or at the very least, risk, to growth? Perhaps we’ve unconsciously connected the two concepts of pain and growth by framing life in cliches like, no pain, no gain; no guts, no glory or nothing ventured, nothing gained. Isn’t this a very fixed way of viewing life? Why can’t we link a different emotion to growth…for example, why not connect growth with joy?

What Brings You Joy?

Would it be possible to make joy your default emotion? What brings you joy? It can be anything from the simple to the sublime. By sharing my three main sources of joy, I hope to move you to consider and seek out the things that make you happy so joy can become your default.

Use Music to Change Your Mood.

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.”

Victor Hugo

Music makes me swoon, as corny as that sounds. I like everything from Rage Against the Machine to Rachmaninoff. I can change my mood in an instant just by playing a song I like. Listening to music for more than five decades has provided me with an extensive catalog from which to choose and I’m sure you’re the same way.

If you need musical inspiration and a quick giggle, check out the Williams twins from Gary, Indiana whose brand new exposure to music that most of us of a certain age group take for granted will reintroduce you to the music you love all over again. Their guileless and often hilarious reactions to everything from Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” to their amazement at the Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter” will have you chuckling for days. There’s a reason why they’ve been media darlings for months now and have had more than five million hits on their YouTube channel. A NY Times article describes the first video to go viral: “Tim Williams and his twin brother, Fred, recently recorded themselves listening to the nearly 40-year-old hit In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins. In the video, the two ride the ebb and flow with some serious head nodding as the song swells toward a climactic moment.

‘Hold on, I didn’t prepare for this. I have to prepare,’ Tim Williams says, with the song paused, as he pantomimes putting a seatbelt on.When they hear the pounding drum break, their bodies slam back in their black leather computer chairs and they look at each other in shock.”

Warning: Watching these two is addictive.

Stop Waiting to Be Offended.

“Those who are determined to be ‘offended’ will discover a provocation somewhere.”

Christopher Hitchens

Under the banner of “finding joy,” I decided to stop living in a constant state of waiting to be offended. There is no end to things that will upset you if you interface with the world in that posture. Here’s an example from my own life. I live in Miami. I drive 52 miles round trip in heavy traffic to and from work every day. If you’ve ever driven in Miami, you’ll know what I mean when I say South Florida is home to some of the worst drivers in the country. In fact, not long ago, Conde Nast Traveler dubbed Miami as having the worst drivers on earth! Everything from NEVER EVER using turn signals to pulling out into 70 MPH traffic without even looking at what’s coming are a few of the bonehead examples of bad driving that I see on a regular basis. My biggest pet peeve, however, are the people I let ahead of me in traffic who would NEVER acknowledge my altruistic largess! When they’d ignore my kindness, I’d find myself fuming all the way home or throughout the day if it happened on my way to work. I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, a state of mannerly and gracious law-abiding citizens. Having lived in Miami for 35 years, you would think I’d be immune to the worst drivers on earth, but no, I was letting it steal my joy every day. One day, I had a revelation: I decided to stop waiting for a thank you. Under the heading of, “What you think of me is none of my business,” I stopped looking for appreciation for doing the right thing. I removed myself from caring whether someone thanked me or not by refusing to look to see if they thanked me. I did my job by letting them into the flow of traffic. I actively looked away once I let them in and disengaged with the outcome. My commutes became much happier and I stopped waiting to be offended.

Channel Your Inner Artist.

My artmaking is simply a personal celebration of the joy of being alive.

Dean Taylor Drewer

One way to default to joy is to channel your inner artist. Not long ago I watched the goofy 2011 movie, “Bridesmaids.” During the cupcake scene, Kristen Wiig hand-builds one absolutely perfect individual cupcake topped with a multi-petal flower of glorious white butter icing after she had to close her bakery Cake Baby. At that moment, after watching her handiwork, I realized that have no talent whatsoever. I decided I needed to figure out some sort of creative outlet. Forget baking, drawing, or painting…I discovered cyanotype which doesn’t take innate talent. Introduced by astronomer John Hershel in 1842, the cyanotype process, also known as the blueprint process, was used by Hershel as a method of making copies of his notes. According to Wikipedia, “Herschel managed to fix pictures using hyposulphite of soda as early as 1839. In the early days the paper was coated with iron salts and then used in contact printing. The paper was then washed in water and resulted in a white image on a deep blue background. Apart from the cyanotype process, Herschel also gave us the words photography, negative, positive and snapshot.” The good thing about cyanotype is that it doesn’t require the discerning eye or technical knowledge of a photographer. You simply figure out where to place items on a chemically treated piece of paper or cloth, put it in the sun for 10-15 minutes, rinse off the chemicals and you’re left with a beautiful creation.

Our beloved cat Yogi “enjoying” my most recent Cyanotype, Quills

In a recent article in PBS’s site Next Avenue, titled, “Releasing Your Creativity: Our Guide to the Pursuit of the Art that Inspires You author and senior editor Julie Pfitzinger explains the value of art during this challenging time: “Every day, the potential for creating and appreciating art is all around us. Since early 2020, we’ve all been challenged to see the beauty in daily life because daily life has changed considerably. It’s been a year of uncertainty, loss, isolation, sadness and fear.

But in the resilient spirit of creativity, new opportunities have come to light: beautiful Zoom musical performances by artists like Yo-Yo Ma, virtual art classes at places such as The Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco (SFMOMA), the eclectic variety of theatrical experiences from Lincoln Center in New York City and many more,” Pfitzinger explains. The Next Avenue guide provides a comprehensive list of classes and methods anyone can use to tap into their creativity.

Even though I’m in the early days of exploring cyanotype, I find myself studying the shapes of the leaves on a pinnate palm tree while I’m sitting in traffic wondering how well those points would transfer to watercolor paper bathed in sunlight. As I walk through my daily routine, I notice shapes and textures and envision them as part of a creation. This medium has provided me a fresh lens through which to see the world anew. And that, friends, is bringing me a world of joy.

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