The last few years have been particularly tough for most of us. None of us have been left untouched by a world that seems to be burning. At an individual and collective level, the pandemic and the multiple crises in the world have left us reeling, and we are still seeing the effects of that unfold on a daily basis. Personally, I have struggled with the loss of both parents as well as multiple losses among family and friends. I have also struggled to maintain my physical and mental wellbeing in this period. In these times, talking about claiming joy might be seen as a distraction from what is truly important for ourselves and the world we live in.
Not surprisingly, even the idea of claiming joy felt like a distraction from what is truly pressing in my life and the issues the world is facing. In moments of stress, anxiety and often depression, joy feels like a selfish or guilty pursuit – because everyone is going through stuff! To be honest, for my own sanity, I realized that without any joy, life would just feel too bleak – and its absence meant that who I am and what I do in this world feels somewhat pointless and unrooted.
For me, connecting to and claiming joy is about keeping the flame and fire of my activism alive – because joy is a beautiful generator of hope. On the one hand, it provides momentary relief from the constant barrage of demands for our revolutionary energies and actions. We are constantly reminded that our dreams for justice are often long, slow and receive little recognition from people other than a few co-fighters, who are all exhausted as well. Burnout is a consequence of this and many of us are at the brink of collapse. Sensory joy is a way to take care of ourselves and allow the natural world and our bodies to sustain our struggle.
Coming to this conclusion led me to realise that claiming joy is in fact an act of freedom and power! Especially in a world where it seems to be available only to a few privileged. Claiming joy reminds us that there is an abundance of love, connection and beauty available to us all and that we are all worthy of a full and beautiful life.
Similarly, and most profoundly, joy has the ability to connect us to one another by affirming our collective humanity. The kind of joy that is available in our solidarity, in our collective ways of being, is a propulsive force. It gathers and channels energy and disrupts rigidity and control. Celebratory joy creates emotional and physical connection, and in turn results in generating energy, keeping us going during those moments when we most need it.
“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” Audre Lorde
The first step in claiming joy is the full acceptance for whatever is going on in your life. Starting there, we can respond with power, grace and ease, to the chaos that surrounds us.
Below are some lessons I learnt from connecting to joy in my activism and life:
1: Making the connection between our activist politics and joy
The first step is to recognise that joy is not a luxury or privilege, but that our activist politics is grounded in it. Many of us feel guilty when making time for joy in our lives because we see it as separate. However, making the connection between our activist practice and joy is an important step in claiming it.
“We think of joy and activism as separate entities, whereas I’m the kind of person who falls deep into these things… I’ve always had an issue detaching myself from the work, little vacations stress me out… I try to take little breaks to myself… I’ll go on Netflix. I never do work when I’m eating.” Sebastián Mendoza-Price
2: Take little joy steps
Take care of yourself in small ways. Go to bed early, cut down on absent minded phone use, skip negative news first thing in the morning. Build happiness breaks into your daily life in simple ways like placing stickers on your planner, wearing a colourful scarf, burning an aroma therapy candle, having your favourite snacks close by and facing a window rather than a wall. Fully savour joyful moments — like drinking your morning cup of coffee, inhaling the scent of a flower, taking a moment to listen to birds singing outside your window.
3: Pay attention to your body
Make time for exercise. A study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that people who worked out for as little as 10 minutes per week tended to be more cheerful than those who never exercise. Pay attention to what makes you feel good and/or energizes you. If one form of exercise does not work for you, try another. Some people love running, some prefer yoga, some love dancing and others enjoy walking through a botanical garden.
4: Focus on gratitude
Create a gratitude or joy list. All of us have things we are grateful for. Focusing on the things we are grateful for or that bring us joy not only produces happiness hormones in our bodies, it also teaches our minds to recognize the things that are good for us. Joy is power! Understand that it will not be given freely to us, but that we have to make the time to create and cultivate it.
5: Connection and community
In the world currently, we all yearn for deeper connection and a sense of community. It’s easy to become isolated when we focus on work more than the people we meet or work with. Work with people who care about you, don’t sign up for a project or movement unless you know the kind of people you’ll be working with. Strike up a conversation with friends, family members, even strangers. Taking a few minutes for conversation, for no other reason than the joy of finding out more about another, can be very revitalizing.
Create a community with those who celebrate you and your accomplishments. Make time to share accomplishments and celebrate your friends and co-workers in simple ways; a quick note to say “I see you” or “I am proud of myself and wanted to share it with you” or even forwarding a funny joke or a poem that inspires you.