The word “joy” may come across as an odd choice in a world that appears anything but joyful at the moment. Yet are we making enough room for joy to help us navigate through these hard times? And can joy actually impact the sustainable flow we are trying to nurture?

Living on autopilot

The ways in which the pandemic is being dealt with is leaving more and more people without any form of security. So many have and are still losing their jobs, their homes, and sometimes even their sense of hope. While battling for survival, it is by no means their responsibility to dig through the many uncomfortable truths this crisis is revealing in order to understand how to better move beyond.

But what about the rest of us?

Are we truly using this time to slow down, pay attention to the world’s needs, ask ourselves the difficult questions, and take consequent actions? Or are we burying our heads in the sand instead; overloading ourselves with work, countless zoom calls, and multiple forms of distractions to avoid looking reality straight in the eye?

From the many cross-continental conversations I’ve been having over the past months, most of us seem to be sharing similar routines lately: breakfast, work, lunch, work, dinner, movie, bed. As we are waiting for things to magically go back to how they used to be, we have found refuge in the virtual universe where productivity feels limitless.

Doing has become our favorite coping mechanism. Have we forgotten how to just be?

Joy for a Sustainable Dimension

Keeping ourselves busy is great. We can proudly tick things off our endless to-do lists, witness weeks fly by, and not even realize it has already been a year. But life still happened in between. Life is happening right now. And what about joy?

When a situation has been going on for over a year, it’s no longer temporary. It’s reality. And when things don’t seem to change fast or drastically enough, it is partly our responsibility to adjust, adapt, and find new ways to create a sustainable dimension within and outside ourselves. And this is where joy can serve us.

As I sat down by the Tiber island to think about what joy meant for me, here is what initially came up: freedom, spontaneity, connection.

I therefore wondered, how exactly can we integrate joy into our lives when we are constantly reminded of what we can’t or shouldn’t do? I realized I needed to push my brainstorming a little further. And soon, other words popped into my head: presence, intention, awareness, fulfillment.

Isn’t that also what sustainability requires from us?

In his Nonviolent Communication book, Marshall B. Rosenberg – American psychologist, mediator, teacher, and author – says:

“Don’t do anything that isn’t play! (…) An important form of self-compassion is to make choices motivated purely by our desire to contribute to life rather than out of fear, guilt, shame, duty, or obligation. When we are conscious of the life-enriching purpose behind an action we take, when the sole energy that motivates us is simply to make life wonderful for others and ourselves, then even hard work has an element of play in it. Correspondingly, an otherwise joyful activity performed out of obligation, duty, fear, guilt, or shame will lose its joy and eventually engender resistance.”

Marshall B. Rosenberg

To understand sustainability, we need to acknowledge – or remember – that everything is interconnected. Just take a look at our bodies: if one tiny little system stops functioning right, it will inevitably affect the rest of our beautifully designed machines in one way or another. So if we don’t look after ourselves; if we give into the resistance instead of making space for joy, our thoughts and actions will automatically suffer – and so will our surrounding environment. Sustainability is an exchange, a balance, involving us too. So how about contributing to that flow with joyful intentions?

An invitation to journal

  1. What words come up when you think of joy? What brings joy to your life?
  2. What do your weeks look like? Notice how much space you make for joy in your life. How does your work-life balance look at the moment?
  3. What is the relationship between joy and sustainability for you?

Bi-weekly Experience

  1. Try to insert one joyful activity (whatever that may be for you: reading, meditating, singing, doing nothing etc.) per day into your routine. Notice if you have a hard time doing so. What stops you? What could help you make space for more joy into your life?
  2. Try to use your journal to write down joyful moments collected during your days.

“In the destruction of something lies a whole new world of possibility – a place where patterns can finally become unhinged and there’s space for something new to take its place. Not that this doesn’t come without loss, grief, devastation, it often does. But to see that there’s also resilience, the beauty of survival, the move to create and thrive despite what surrounds us. To me that’s the essence of our fights for liberation.” – Spenta Kandawalla

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