Adding Joy

by Suzita on March 17, 2011

I’ve read in a number of places that if you want to rediscover the things you truly love to do, recall what you loved to do as a 10 or 11 year-old.

At this age I was doing a lot of gymnastics, probably spending as much time upside down as right side up on any given day.  When not tumbling, I was roller skating through every nook of our planned community’s neighborhood with my best friend, Kim.  We’d devise random challenges such as who could skate the farthest down a muddy hill before falling, only moving to the next endeavor when our skates were too mud-caked to roll any further.  Thinking back on those years, my life was lived outside and in motion.

When I got into yoga as an adult, it felt familiar on a deep level from the very first class.  Eventually I realized this comfortable familiarity with yoga was related to my years of gymnastics.  I’d finally found a way to spend time upside down again, without drawing stares.

For me, one of the unexpected highpoints of parenting has been the increased level of physical activity the kids have brought to my life.  They get me outside when I might not otherwise go.  And they so clearly need a regular physical outlet, that in finding this for them, I meet my own activity needs as well.

Now that my kids are within or near the 10 and 11 year-old age range, it’s been entertaining to watch what they are drawn to, and wonder whether it will become one of their enduring activities.

Will Stephen always love poring over maps and creating his own?  Is theater going to be a part of Daniel’s life in some way for years to come?  Will Annie’s own children hear her sing as frequently as we do now?

Recently I was reading Martha Beck’s book, Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live.  This is a book I have read three times already, just in the past eight months, and will no doubt read pieces of for many years to come.  It’s one of those wise tomes that offers something novel to consider each time I return to it.

The last time I read it, I began with her section: Maximizing Your Life’s Joy Content.  Beck says that like fitness experts encourage us to fit bits of exercise into various parts of our day, we should also add morsels of joy into our daily lives.

Start small.  If nature brings you joy, make sure you have photos of the natural world in your office, on your cell phone, and your computer screen.  Beck gives the example of a man who loved golf.  He decided to rise early twice weekly to hit balls at the driving range.  Then he added a virtual golf game to his work computer.  I enjoyed even considering ways I might scatter bits and pieces of joy throughout my day.

Beck includes a true/false exercise to help one discern activities which lead to true joy versus just a fleeting happiness.  Reading some of the statements such as, “When I remember this experience, my muscles relax” or “I find myself spontaneously smiling when I dwell on this memory” turned my mind to the notion of flow.

Much psychology research has been done on flow and the concept is similar in many ways to Beck’s descriptions of joy. You enter a state of flow when you are engaged in something pleasurable that is hard, but not too hard.  You lose all track of time.  You are 100% focused on the present moment, and it’s an extremely satisfying experience.

Read more about how to incorporate and support flow in your kids’ lives here.

I remembered that time flies for me when I paint.  This includes the process of deciding what to paint, though part two of the process, gathering the supplies, can slow me down a tad.  However once I start the actual work, I quickly re-enter that flow state.  I hadn’t painted in quite a while.

So I painted again.

When I was painting this time I noticed the kids were drawn to me like bees to fluffy, springtime pollen.  They didn’t buzz around me in a distracting way, though.  It was as if the feeling of peace and contentment I had while painting was contagious.  My kids would amble over and quietly observe. They’d notice aloud particular aspects or colors of the painting that pleased them, then walk away calmer.

Annie decided to undertake her own painting project at the table across from me.  Perhaps because neither of us was particularly worried about the end result of our work, but instead focused on the process, our painting experiences progressed more smoothly than in the past.

It helped that we weren’t making the paintings as gifts and weren’t tied to a deadline for completion.  When I am attached to a certain outcome, it’s much harder for me to reach that state of flow or experience joy.  (I think Martha Beck would agree.)

Checking back in with my 11 year-old self, at that time I didn’t love to draw and paint, and wasn’t particularly skilled at either.

Remember those make-your-own plastic plates?  First you’d draw with chunky, rainbow-hued markers on a circular white sheet of paper.  Then your work would be mailed off to some company that would turn it into a plate which you’d give to your parent on the next holiday.  Well, both my parents kept these works of art and recently returned a fairly substantial dining set of them to me.  Now at each family meal, my children have visible proof that I wasn’t very talented at drawing as a child.

Annie: “You were eight when you drew this, Mama?  Really?”

Daniel:  “That’s okay, Mama, I bet no one ever taught you how to draw trees, so you didn’t know.”

Stephen: “Or people, or cats.”

Me: (trying to turn this into some kind of teachable moment) “Well it just goes to show things can change later in life.  Plus we all get better at the things we practice again and again.”

In my experience, thinking about one’s childhood is indeed an ideal place to start finding our “true loves in life” but it’s also vital not to stop there.  Like our kids do naturally, we should try new things too, because novelty is also highly correlated with joy (but I guess that’s a subject for another post).

What activities are flow experiences for you?  Leave a comment below!

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

deirdre March 17, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Loved seeing the paintings and Annie working. Wish I could paint, but getting involved in music creates flow in my life. When I practice I hear myself accomplishing things that previously I thought I couldn’t, and playing with others is an experience of total joy. I couldn’t live without it.
Doing for others also brings me joy, creating through cooking, watching Comedy Central and laughing out loud, walking in nature. Thanks for the opportunity of thinking about these things.

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Catie McDowell March 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Sweet post!
Your art is lovely and your thoughts about being in the flow, wonderful. Thank you again for the inspiration!

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Kim Decker March 17, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Singing in a chorus, photography, gardening, cooking (sometimes), being in the woods, exercising.

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Okus June 5, 2012 at 11:10 am

3 things come to my mind right off the bat.Start them off with wtehear and clouds. teach them vaguely how the sun rises and sets, and teach them the 3 main types of clouds. Go cloud watching, make a mural with the different types from pictures. From there you can go to rain and snow then jump into plants and plant growth-grow some. Have the kids start a drawing journal about the progress of their growth ..I could go on forever! We had so much fun homeschooling in preschool.

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MutantSupermodel March 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Reading and crocheting. Absolutely. Also writing.

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Tanja Pajevic March 19, 2011 at 9:15 am

I love your explorations, Suzita, and completely agree with how wonderful it is to re-experience a childhood love alongside our kids. Our 2-year-old is an avid basketball player (really) and he’s gotten us up and away from my 4-year-old’s Lego table. I especially liked the image of calmness settling over your family as you all painted together. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to share a similar story of peace and calm 🙂

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Play. Fight. Repeat. March 20, 2011 at 11:09 am

When my boys were 2 and 4, I could never have even written a post using the words peace and calm. Heck, I couldn’t have even written a post. Your day will come. Ages 3 and 5 are a good combination. Then it gets a bit harder again at 4 and 6, at least that’s how it worked at our house.

Thanks for your comments!

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carrie March 19, 2011 at 12:35 pm

What a wonderful post! At the age of 10, I had a set of encyclopedias that I defaced by writing kid’s names on- and then set them out like desks in a classroom to practice teaching. It wasn’t until15 years later, teaching Spanish 1 in exchange for a grad school stipend, that I (re)discovered my passion for teaching. I look at my 9 1/2 year old daughter and know she will work with critters, probably outside. Vet? Park Ranger? Animal rescuer? Who can say!
And I had those mail-in plastic plates as well. Thankfully, my parents routinely decluttered and chucked them: an image of a hairdo sprouting legs and running haunts me like a nightmare. Mercifully, my daughters won’t have the chance to comment 🙂

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Play. Fight. Repeat. March 19, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Are you sure we can’t find those Make-Your-Own plates somewhere? I think your daughters really deserve to see them! So great that you’ve been teaching since age 10. 🙂

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