I’m aware of a book called Joy is My Compass – Taking the Risk to Follow Your Bliss by Alan Cohen. Despite declaring in January that joy will be my compass for 2017, I’ve not yet read the book but the phrase joy is my compass captivated me. It reminds me that we are intended to live joyfully – not in the fearful, grasping way we are socialised to. It can be hard to switch from believing that sacrifice & sheer hard work are required to live a good life to allowing ourselves joy and, even, prioritising our joy. But my intention is to raise my boys with a different world view – to value joy, to seek it and create it in every moment. I want joyful to be our normal. For such a life, joy is the perfect compass.
HOW ARE JOY & HAPPINESS DIFFERENT?
Happiness comes to us in moments. It is dependent on external circumstances – like getting a particular job, partner or fashion item. Therefore, just as easily as favourable circumstances can come and go, so, too, can happiness. Happiness is high GI, causing spikes in our emotions. Joy is something quieter yet deeper and more stable. There is a sense of meaning in joy that there isn’t in happiness. It is always available to us, we just have to choose it. And there are so many ways to let joy in.
“Happiness is like rising bubbles — delightful and inevitably fleeting. Joy is the oxygen — ever present” – Danielle La Porte
My son Jake, loves eating ice-cream and he also loves building Lego. I would argue that the ice-cream makes him happy but, once it’s eaten, the happiness it brought dissipates quickly. On the other hand, building Lego is a fun & engrossing activity for him and the satisfaction he gets from it is nourishing in a way that ice-cream just isn’t. I would call this joy. Danielle says that “joy is the fibre of your soul”. It is the fuel for our lives. Joy is low GI.
THE VALUE OF JOY
Joy Indicates Spiritual Alignment
Joy is our natural way of being. It indicates to us that we are in alignment. By this, I mean that our mind, body and spirit are working together for the greater purposes of our soul. I think the experience of flow is actually an experience of deep joy. I wrote the following about flow in my post How Our Children Raise Us –
At times, I have watched my boys play and have recognised their feeling of full absorption & joy from my own childhood. I used to get it when I was swimming in our pool, singing along to music and writing stories. Scientists call this state “flow” and I think of it as allowing God to flow through me. Do you remember the healing quality of that feeling? How content and internally energised it left you?
Now, I still experience flow when I write and have found a way to use my writing to encourage other parents. What brings our children joy in childhood may be the same things that bring them joy in adulthood. Those things may end up being connected with the contribution they make in the world.
Joy Attracts More Joy
Have you noticed how a day that begins with joy often continues that way? Perhaps it starts with a particularly heart-felt “good morning” hug from your child which you take a moment to appreciate fully, right down to your toes. Then, as you go about your day, people everywhere seem to be particularly friendly & helpful to you and, in the afternoon, you receive a piece of good news then your partner arrives home in the evening with your favourite wine/chocolate/desert for “no reason”. It just feels that life is going well for you and you feel joyful. This is the law of attraction at work. We attract the feeling we are putting out. So, by deliberately letting joy in where we find it (and it’s always there), we cultivate more joyful experiences. Choosing what we focus on is key to utilising the power of this law – so let’s focus on joy!
Joy Supports Emotional Resilience
When joyful is our normal, our capacity to weather difficult experiences is much greater. No matter how much joy we cultivate, life is intended to grow us and no one is exempt from its challenges. With a joyful way of being, though, we know we have that joyful place to return to once we are through the difficult experience. My son Jake is easily joyful, something I am so grateful for. As a result, he moves through difficult emotions quite quickly. It’s not that upsetting emotions should be avoided – they have something to tell us – but they don’t need to keep us down. We can even feel that life is ultimately joyful while at the same time going through a major experience that deeply saddens or angers us.
CULTIVATING JOY IN OUR CHILDREN
Notice the activities, places and people who bring our children joy and create opportunities for them to spend time with these people, places and activities. For example a place may be anywhere by water and a person may be a particular friend who is on the same wavelength. I don’t think having things brings joy but the actual using of things may bring joy – such as playing an instrument or, as in Thomas’ case, the process of lining up his toy cars.
Help our children to recognise for themselves the activities, places and people who bring them joy. For younger children, we might point out “you seem to feel really good when you’re playing outside with a ball”. For older children, we might ask, “which of your friends do you feel most like yourself and relaxed with?”
Teach our children joyful habits of mind. Gratitude is a powerful place to start. Self-love is essential.
When we notice our children are in a joyless state of mind, perhaps whining for things they want or hanging on to a grudge after a sibling argument, remind them that they will get more of how they feel and help them to choose a more joyful state of mind.
When things are deteriorating for the whole family, stop for a joy break. Having fun with people we love is a joyful experience and can act as the reset button for everyone. Our family loves playing indoor soccer together.
Find a way to do the boring/difficult things joyfully. When my boys were younger, I used to sing a tidying song as we put away the toys. I find interesting ways for my son to practise the spelling words he’s learning for school. This shows them that joy is always there, waiting for us to notice it and to take it.
Be the example of joyful living. Our example is our greatest teacher. Be joyful for your children’s sake…and your own.
IN SUMMARY – NUTRITION FOR OUR SOULS
Joy can feel like a guilty pleasure at first, especially for those of us who have been taught that using our own effort is the only way to build a satisfying life. But, if joy is our compass, pointing in the direction of our purpose and giving our lives richness & ease, it is, surely, nutrition for our souls. Actually, there’s also a book called The Joy Diet by Martha Beck (and also on my “books to read” list). I’m putting my family on the diet now.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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I wonder how many times a day my sons ask me this. Actually, Thomas (3 years-old) just commands, “Play with me!” And why shouldn’t he? That’s what mums (and dads) are meant to do. But we’re also meant to provide nutritious meals & clean clothes to wear, get everyone where they need to go and earn a living…(I won’t continue in case I overwhelm you!)
Before I became a parent, I imagined playing carefree with my children for long stretches of time each day. I didn’t realise that I would feel anxious as I built Duplo towers with my son because I needed to get dinner in the oven. Or struggle to engage fully in re-enactments of emergency/superhero scenarios because I had a couple of phone calls to make before heading out for school pick-up. Before I became a parent, I also didn’t realise that I would refuse my children’s requests to play with them several times on any given day because I had other things to do.
So, I have a love-hate relationship with this question, Mummy, will you play with me? It fills me with both tenderness and guilt. When he asks, my son is inviting me into his world and wants to spend time with me – which I love. But sometimes I feel almost angry at him for asking me to play when I can’t say “yes” – can’t you see I’m busy making school lunches? Don’t you know how much I have to do?! – which I hate. It is a constant jostle for my attention that I haven’t yet got right. And perhaps I won’t.
REMEMBERING THE VALUE OF PLAY
When we play with our children, we affirm them. We show them that they are important to us and that the things they care about matter. Having fun together is also a natural way for people (of any age) to connect. When we don’t take time to play, our interactions with our children can be reduced to organising and instructing them – “go and put your shoes on”, “where is your reading book?”. We find out lots about our children when we play with them too. We discover new vocabulary they have picked up, get insights into their world view and become privy to their dreams. When I commit to our play, my son and I are both present, in a state of spiritual alignment which feels nourishing for us both.
There have been times when I’ve noticed my boys’ behaviour has gradually become more difficult for no obvious reason. Then, thinking about it further, I’ve realised that I’ve been preoccupied and, among other things, haven’t played much with them recently. When I go back to prioritising play time together, their behaviour often becomes easier. They needed us to connect.
Here are some of the steps I’m taking to help me fit some quality play time into each day –
5 WAYS FOR BUSY PARENTS TO PLAY MORE WITH THEIR CHILDREN
Remember that every little bit counts A short time spent playing together is better than none. When one of my sons asks me to play, I’m trying to say “yes” if I possibly can, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.
Play something you & your child both enjoy Our children can sense when we don’t really want to be playing with them and are doing so out of a sense of should. It’s likely they take it personally at times. The other morning, I was meant to be playing Star Wars with Jake but struggled to get enthused and I wasn’t really doing much. He looked at me as if to say, “Well go on – play!” On the other hand, he and I bond over Lego, I even wrote a blog post called 6 Life Lessons Lego Taught Me. I know I can be present and good company when we play Lego.
Build playtime into the daily routine When something is built into our routine, we don’t question it or have to make time for it – it’s just what we do. In our family, we have a few parts of the day dedicated to playing together so that, if the day does get away on us, we have had some play time to connect. When it’s my turn to get up with our boys at 6am, we play for nearly an hour until it’s time to make breakfast. After dinner every night, we have “5 minutes play time” for the whole family to play together, no matter how late it is.
Plan an extended play time togetheroccasionally For me, this works best in the weekends. I mentally put aside a specific stretch of time for playing with my boys at least once each weekend and commit to an hour or more of playing and hanging out with my them.
Initiate play on your own terms If I have ten minutes to wait until the washing machine has finished it’s cycle, instead of doing another job or checking my phone, I try to join in with whatever my boys are playing while it suits me. If they’re not engrossed in something, I suggest an activity I think we’ll all enjoy to do together. So far, they’ve never declined my invitation to play.
IN SUMMARY – TIME WELL SPENT
Playing with our children is obviously not unique to soulful parenting styles. But it is a great way to practise some of our spiritual parenting values and beliefs, such as demonstrating our child’s worth to them, being present and building loving relationships. I don’t think parents should be their children’s main playmates – playing with friends, siblings and on their own is really important – but it is a special part of our role and worth making time for. I’ll be honest, there are times when playing feels like another thing I should do, but often I end up having fun. And I never regret spending time with my boys, it always feels like time well spent.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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