chasing joy

a closeup of a mountain range, partially covered in fog. some trees can be seen on the ground below.

In the past several weeks, I’ve become aware that I don’t have a very good idea of what gives me joy, what makes me happy. I do the same things in the same order most days, and whether it is happy-making has not occurred to me in a while.

Our most senior cat has begun his leaving journey. Sinking into the mindfulness and quietness of self that deathwork requires of me has helped me understand of where to find some of my joy. I truly feel deeply right when I am sitting in contemplative silence near an actively dying person, knowing that the mystery of death is not a puzzle I need to solve, or a problem to fix. Caring for grieving loved ones also leads me toward a sense of rightness. It is as if I am an open space that can hold grief without internalizing it.

There is nothing else that I’ve experienced that is like the blessed relief of knowing that I don’t need to fix something. I realize this says a lot about my messiah complex and my trauma-induced need to find control wherever I can, but the freedom that comes from letting what will be, to just be — I don’t have words for how it feels. Maybe there is not a need to describe everything; maybe it is okay for a mystery like death to remain a mystery. Maybe it is also right to allow myself not to know all things. Maybe I should bring this up with my therapist.

I’ve spent the last eighteen months — and many months prior to it, if I’m being honest — feeling sorry for myself, feeling grief, feeling trapped, feeling forgotten, feeling despair. There is nothing inherently wrong with feelings. It’s what you do with your feelings that matters: do you let them direct your thoughts and actions, or do you sit with the truth and allow yourself both the room to heal and the freedom to get up and do something else? Do you let your feelings write the story of your days, or do you take the pen and write it yourself, word by word, thought by thought, present and aware of each letter and each sentence?

Here’s a list of what I know so far about what brings me joy:

  • Listening to music, finding new music, rediscovering music, making playlists, using those playlists to amplify a feeling or to introduce a new one
  • The process of knitting, the feel of the yarn as it slides over my fingers, the satisfaction of creation
  • Seeing a book and knowing that I want it in my library; collecting those books in various ways: audio, digital, paper
  • Writing and rewriting, journaling, the feeling of paper and the way my fountain pen sings across it
  • Quietness, thoughtfulness, mindfulness, meditation, stillness; pursuing knowledge and sitting with it, turning it over in my mind to see its facets
  • Showing up and being seen, being appreciated, being admired, knowing that who and what I am is interesting to someone else
  • Relationships that are healthy because they are honest
  • Keeping my word: doing what I say I’ll do when I say I’ll do it; living in a truthful state of being, as much as possible; being responsible for things because I am trusted to do those things
  • Playing computer games, playing console games, matching a game to a difficult-to-describe mood, choosing correctly, learning from mistakes, starting over
  • Trees. All of them.
  • The scent of an evening in any season; being outside while dusk falls and melts into night; fog; the smell of rain; being barefoot on the earth

Maybe I’ve been doing the things that make me happy without realizing that they are the things that can make me happy. Maybe the joy I don’t see or feel is actually the experience of being myself, doing the things I want to do. What challenges me, what changes me, what comforts me. If that’s part of joy, then I think I am further along in this process of discovery than I realized.

I’ve got a ways to go, but this seems like a good start.

[edit from future me: our senior cat is still alive and well, but he sure did give us a scare]

featured image is a photo by Connor McSheffrey on Unsplash

Nix Kelley
Co-parent to multiple kids. Writer. Death doula. Member of the Order of the Good Death. Seeker on the Path of Light. Queer, non-binary, & trans.


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