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Finding Joy in Difficult Times

Joy may be hiding, but maybe we can find it if we look hard enough.

Four months ago, I decided to invite Joy into my life.

Joy is a Boston Terrier, now six-and-a-half months old. Like the other pandemic puppies of her generation, she is a welcome, absorbing distraction from the world outside, a public health nightmare and a deeply disturbing political moment.

Deborah R. Glasofer
Joy warming up my yoga mat.
Source: Deborah R. Glasofer

Inside my apartment last weekend, as COVID numbers continued to rise exponentially and early voting in a critical national election began, I decided to see what would happen if I invited Joy to my weekly yoga practice. My hour of stretching and centering, guided by a dear childhood friend who leads a class that balances aspirational limberness with unparalleled levity, was punctuated by Joy licking my hands in down dog, jumping up to nibble my toes in half-moon, and staring at me with playful eyes as I peered upward in cobra. The licks made me laugh out loud. The nibbles made me yelp. And the soulful stares made me think, think about what the past eight months have been like and the importance of joy.

As a therapist, I help others with the pain they are experiencing, fear of uncertainty, health, political and economic anxiety, grief for a loss of normalcy, anger about the trickle-down effects of a system riddled with racism, symptoms of depression or disordered eating, and persistent disbelief about what is and what might come next. But despite all of my clinical training and my keen sense of how important it is to take good care of myself in the face of an ongoing stressor of indeterminate duration, distractions abound. I become lost in a news cycle that can (and sometimes does) bring me to tears of sadness or rage. How do I keep myself looking for joy? And why bother?

By-Studio/Adobe Stock Images
Source: By-Studio/Adobe Stock Images

Being joyful is a conscious commitment to seeking contentment for the present moment as it is, despite life’s challenges. It is an attitude, a practice just like yoga, that can be a salve for sorrows. Joy can be found in personal connection, in communion with nature, in art and music appreciation. When we access joy, biological changes occur. It is an emotional state that enables us to reframe even the bleakest of circumstances. Positive emotions help us enhance psychological resilience (resilience being the ability to adapt in response to adversity, a characteristic that can be learned, built, and strengthened with effort) and thereby enjoy life a little more. And research has shown that changes in positive emotions, like joy, rather than negative emotions, may be especially important in predicting remission and recovery from clinical depression.

I push back and seek out connection with family and friends, the comfort of nature, and companionship with a puppy whose preferred burrow-snuggle position is with her face tucked into my armpit. Joy gets me to giggle with delight. I even do that which I never in a million years thought I would, I browse online to build her doggy wardrobe. A fleece. A raincoat. A cable-knit sweater. Oh, my.

 Deborah R. Glasofer
Joy models her new denim raincoat.
Source: Deborah R. Glasofer

I work on acceptance. Acceptance that to see my family over the holidays I will have to quarantine for several weeks beforehand. Acceptance that this is the first year in the last decade when there have been no new stamps in my passport. Acceptance that I am, in fact, and against all of my previously held convictions, a person who dresses her dog. I work on self-compassion. My situation could be so much worse, I have not lost a job or a loved one to COVID, but it is okay to grieve the losses I am experiencing. And I work on cultivating and raising Joy.

The world rages on. I anxiously await the results of Election Day. But inside my apartment, I greet the late autumn dawn by calling out in a sing-song voice, “Good morning, Joy,” as I open the crate door. I watch my girl in her morning ritual of carpet roll-arounds, anxiously awaiting belly rubs. I yell, “Where’s Joy?” I pretend to look around for a puppy who has run under the bed. And then, “I found Joy!” I lift the dust ruffle. After all, joy may be hiding, but we can often find it if we look hard enough.

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