Inside: Practices to help us choose joyful living in a stressed out world.
For most of my life I was not focused on joyful living – nor did I consider that it was a possibility for me. I was simply surviving. And then learning to take one faltering step after another to find my way forward.
At 18 I decided to live. In my 30s, through informal study, I learned that I’d lived with low-grade depression and severe anxiety since childhood and how perfectionism was my tool of choice to feel safe in the world. I also learned about the trait of high-sensitivity and my whole life began to make more sense.
In my 40s I did more incredibly hard and freeing work to truly befriend myself, put down deep and hardy roots of self-awareness and self-compassion, and learn to take imperfect action through fear. I had so much fear in my body.
Since I turned 50 I’ve been owning my value like never before. Naming trauma, setting firmer boundaries, and refusing to disown my self or story for “belonging” or acceptance from others. I’m living with joy. Wholeheartedly. Through heartache. As I do the work I love. In this messy and complicated world.
Joyful living in a stressed-out world is possible and it’s quite a journey.
practices for joyful living in a stressed-out world
It has taken me years to get to where I am today and yet continue the work in my own life. There is no one path to wholeness and everyone’s unique life circumstances and personality come into play. The practices I offer below, and as with all of my work, are shared as ideas not ‘rules’. May they offer a measure of inspiration or encouragement to you.
1. craft your life vision and know your core values
A clear vision is a huge part of joyful living. I’m a vision-oriented person. I’ve always needed a clear sense of direction so that I could then pull my heart and mind back to the present and keep showing up. I offer many resources to help you do this important and life-giving visioning work: a purposeful printable pack, a life visioning workbook and workshop, and even a Weekend Visioning Retreat in the Canadian Rockies.
There are times we can only see a few steps in front of us and that has to be enough. We find our way in action, not before. We grow into the strength and wisdom we need for every season.
My vision has deepened and expanded as I have moved through different seasons of life; it guides my decision-making and roots me. It helps me set healthy boundaries and say no to things and people that do not align with who and how I want to BE and reminds me that I do not have to do everything others think I ‘should’, no matter how wonderful. It prompts me to step back and see the big picture rather than falling apart over the myriad details. To remember that life is a journey, I am a work in progress, and that I simply need to take baby step after baby step and rest in the process.
2. befriend yourself
It was absolutely essential for me to get clear on who I am, to grow in self-awareness and self-compassion. To learn to respect and BEFRIEND myself . This includes getting to know and own the fullness of my strengths and weaknesses, my personality and the real me that lives underneath personality and the ways I’ve learned to feel safe in the world. It has included learning how to honour my wiring and embodying the truth that I do not need to compare or force myself to fit into someone else’s box in order to be good enough.
Befriending ourselves always involves learning to set brave boundaries, use our voice, and remember that we have agency. I am the expert on my life. You are the expert on yours. And we are not meant to be the same.
None of us are bad, wrong, or broken ho matter how much we struggle (and I struggled hard!). When you’re coming from a season of struggle or suffering it can take a whole lot of consistent practice to (re)learn to walk in strength, dignity and quiet confidence. There were days or seasons in which I saw myself as fragile and a wee bit broken and others in which I saw myself as a warrior. And it is ok that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
3. know where you are: we can only change what we first acknowledge
Identify where you are on the journey to wholeness and freedom and then chart a joyful and soul-sustaining path forward. Use this assessment and score yourself on some key concepts and skills that foster joyful living. Then practice regular, or at least seasonal check-ins, to acknowledge what you need to release or receive, what is and isn’t serving you, and if you’re in alignment with your core values and progressing toward to your life vision. This won’t happen by accident. We must be deliberate in this noisy and messy world about setting and staying our course.
If you’re healing forward after grief or significant loss, or even through a major life transition, you may feel unmoored or lost. It’s best not to try to make this journey alone. We need each other! These tools for grief and suicide/child loss may help or I invite you to reach out for 1:1 support.
4. build brave community
Feeling lonely/isolated means being 3-10 times more likely to get sick and die prematurely when compared to enjoying a strong sense of love and community. In one study volunteers were exposed to rhinovirus (common cold). Those that had 1-3 social ties every two weeks were 4.2 times more likely to develop a cold than those with 6 or more social ties during that time. Loneliness increases odds of dying early by 45%! vs air pollution 5%, obesity 20%, excessive drinking 30% and it’s associated with cardiovascular disease, depression, dementia, anxiety, impaired creativity, decision making.
Community matters. Community-care matters.
I used to feel like a loner by choice.. While I am a strong introvert, the more I got to know myself, I realized that I only thrive when engaged with healthy and growth-minded community. In fact, in isolation I have a tendency to spiral downward. Many of us don’t find ‘our people’ in our local communities, though. We need to get creative about getting our social needs met. You may choose to forge your own community of wise and brave humans doing their own growth online, as I have done. An inner circle of people (or just one or two!) who will accept and love you and where you feel a sense of belonging and contribution matters.
5. Practice Self and soul-Care
I say that I now put myself first. Above my family. Above service others. I have learned the hard way that selfless devotion without self-care leads to serious burn-out that ultimately serves no one. Joyful movement and quality sleep help strengthen me physically. I require fairly constant brain-food in order to be joyful so I keep learning and thinking and invest in my education in various ways. I don’t spend a ton of time with friends but do enjoy real-talk with like-minded people who enjoy discussing ideas. Social support helps alleviate anxiety and promotes overall health and wellbeing.
And taking pleasure in life, slowing down to notice the gifts of today, and practicing purposeful rest all support my mind-body wellbeing. I have learned to heed the whispers of my soul that warn me of my need to come aside and rest awhile which prevents me from crashing and burning I have developed the courage to speak up more often and seek help when needed, though it took me until my 40s to do so.
The resource library includes many worksheets and resources to help you practice self and soul-care. They’re free but you do need to sign up. In particular I recommend the free Feel More Empowered Workshop. This teaches you about your nervous system, how to understand what’s happening in your body when you’re feeling stressed or stuck, and ideas for taking imperfect action to shift into a calmer, curious, and more empowered state.
6. make meaning out of your experience
Paid or not, I believe we all have work to do in the world and also not everything is for this season. If you are raising little people or struggling with chronic illness- let that be your primary work, if possible. Regardless, we all have gifts to contribute. While this may involve a career, vocation, or ministry, this isn’t necessarily about education level or being ‘expert’ at anything.
We teach by example and we are always ahead of someone else on the journey; someone who is watching and listening and in need of us speaking encouragement into their lives. And our work doesn’t end at retirement; the healthiest societies understand that young or old, we have a contribution to make to our community. I know we have bills to pay so this isn’t always easy to navigate but I believe that taking care of yourself (emotionally, physically, spiritually) and building a strong, connected family take priority over your work or serving other people. We can’t pour out what we don’t own.
Meaning-making isn’t only about contribution. It’s also about resilience and finding our way forward after pain, loss, and tragedy. It’s about choosing our response to the reality of life.
7. practice paradox
When my cup is filled I have an easier time dancing with paradox. But no matter how hard I work to build resilience and love myself well, hard things happen that we do not control. Even on the most sun-filled day this world is messy and complex. We must learn the power and gift of practicing both/and.
Only when we make peace with the messiness of life can we mine for the wisdom and beauty in every season. Or can we allow joy and laughter into our lives in the midst of pain or suffering. To live a full, meaningful, joyful life we need to embrace the truth that two seemingly opposite things can coexist at the same time. One does not cancel the other out.
Joyful living in a messy world is possible. I’m doing it. Looking back it sometimes feels like a dream or another lifetime when I consider everything I’ve navigated to get to this point in time. This isn’t an easy choice to make – choosing joy, I mean. There are some situations in which choosing life feels wrong, like betrayal.
As we use our voice and gifts to help build a kinder, safer world for all, we have permission to taste joy. To belly laugh, love, go on adventures, rest, and eat good food. Filling your cup allows you (and me) to show up rooted and resilient and make a positive impact within our circle of impact.
Before I close, if you are feeling crushed by the weight of anxiety, depression, or feeling hopeless right now, please seek help. Tell the truth to someone. There is absolutely no shame in needing support (we all do!) and you deserve help. Your life matters.
This post was written in March 2016 and updated a bit July 2022.
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