I fell in love with Marie Kondo, the queen of tidying, when I watched her NETFLIX series during last February’s let’s-hope-it-never-comes-again blizzard. I am not a convert yet, although I’ve taken a little ground. What I loved most in the series was hearing her laugh and ask her clients, “Does it spark joy?”
I’ve been carrying that question around ever since. It’s a profound question–applicable to a lot more than deciding what to do with my grandmother’s beloved china.
Joy is the fruit at the heart of many spiritual disciplines.
This week, I was thinking about joy on a more mundane level, as I began the heavy task of mucking mountains of manure from our backyard. The horses have been happily prolific this spring. Normally, I find mucking meditative, but I was tired, and for sure shoveling sh-t was not sparking joy.
Then I thought: why not create joy now? even though I would never have put mucking on my joy list.
The challenge of creating joy gave me the boost I needed. I slowed down, listened to the birds more, and felt my gratitude as I watched my horse grazing in the sunshine, a lifelong dream come true. Then, after dumping several heavy wheelbarrow loads of manure, I lay down in the grass. Rays of sunshine covered my face as I heard the crows clamoring, felt an aerial visit from an unknown bug, and let myself sink onto the ground supported by the earth. This was joy.
Lying there, I let stress melt away. I tried out two practices that I read can help us calm and reset our nervous systems: deep breathing with a slight smile on the face and humming. They worked.
With five simple actions: gratitude, slowing, giving myself a breather, putting a slight smile on my face, and humming, I felt less burdened. As I resumed picking, I resisted trying to finish the job, knowing that more shoveling would hurt my back. Pushing to do it all was tempting but back pain does not bring me joy.
When the task is less pleasant
Sometimes we don’t have the liberty of throwing out tasks that do not feel pleasing, as you might jettison the green cardigan with holes in the elbows that was given to you by dear Aunt Edith.
I needed to catch up on some financial and administrative work that I’d been avoiding, even though what I really wanted to do was write.
Approaching these tasks as drudgery was not going to make them more pleasant. Could I shift?
- I put on some upbeat music to help me clean and make my office inviting.
- I gave thanks for the privilege of having such tasks to do.
- I sprinkled rugosa rose petals on my desk, adding a sweet fragrance to the air.
- I gave myself a time limit, two hours, and a reward: a return to my writing.
- I reminded myself to breathe.
Did I find joy as I kept getting locked out of my accounts and spent (too much) time with customer service? Let’s just say I shifted from “I really don’t want to do this” to “This is OK.” I was pleased with what I did.
The Dalai Lama wrote, in The Book of Joy:
“We create most of our suffering, so it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy.”
I get it. I’m a master at turning tasks into a form of suffering, particularly when I’m tired or overwhelmed.
So why can’t I become a master of infusing my work with joy?
Of course, not everything will spark joy. But we can create joy on our own.
If I can find joy in mucking, maybe I will find it filing pillars of papers.
Again the Dalai Lama:
“the three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”
I’m rewarding myself now by writing this post and thinking of you reading, which always sparks joy.