We’ve just come through “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year”. It is a time when we sing of “Joy To The World” and “Love and joy come to you…” It seems people are more cheerful and joy is not hard to find. It is a very special time of year.
Then comes…In my part of the United States that means cold. And snow. And gray. When the calendar flips to January my mind and emotions seem to flip a switch from the joy of the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays to the dread of weeks – no, months of cold and snow and gray, drab days.
I’m sounding like a real downer aren’t I?
Unfortunately that’s what happens to me when January comes around. And I don’t like it.
This year I wonder, “could there be joy in January?”
Is it possible to find true joy in the midst of the dreary days? I don’t mean just a feeling of happiness but true, deep-down, a bad day can’t rob me of joy! I am determined to find it.
My first idea was to consider what robs us of joy. I mean, if we seem to have it other times of the year and then ‘lose’ it something(s) must be getting in the way, right? Here are some things I have discovered in my own life that rob me of it joy:
1. Attitude/Mental Focus – I believe we have a choice about what we allow to impact our day. Choosing to be positive does make a difference in how we emerge from a situation, even when it’s not ideal. At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, what we allow to stick around in our heads and hearts will determine the direction we go. Consider this:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
The truth is we will be presented with challenges. We are not always going to be happy about them or welcome them into our day. That is the reality of life. The key is what we choose to concentrate on when we walk away from those challenges. If we allow negative comments or minor mistakes to get under our skin and overwhelm our thoughts we will begin to see even the good things though cloudy glasses.
I came to this conclusion on my drive home from an especially chaotic and negative day at work. I found myself reviewing segments of the day over and over in my head and with each segment reliving the frustrations, emotions and chaos. I began to pray as I drove and God revealed to me that I needed to let go. Each of the situations I was reliving was over. It didn’t matter if a patient was nasty to me on the phone or the entire office was feeling overwhelmed and negative. These isolated incidents were frustrating but they were just that – incidents. They were not an on-going challenge to be solved or problem to be reconciled. I could choose to allow them to impact my attitude or choose to let go and focus on more positive things.
Choosing to dwell on past negativity will cause us to carry those emotions into the future and rob us of joy.
2. Physical Factors – Working in an orthopaedic office I have learned much about how in injury or pain in one area of our bodies affects other areas as well. God created our bodies intricately and designed each part to work together…physical, mental and spiritual. When physical factors in our body are out of whack so to speak it can impact other areas, stealing our joy. Here are three that I’ve noticed impacting my joy:
- Sleep – we all know how a lack of sleep impacts our immune system and our ability to function properly but until recently I didn’t realize how much it impacts my mood. Our brains become foggy when we don’t get adequate sleep and our emotions are more sensitive. Here are links to a couple of studies you can check out:
Harvard University – http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood
Psychology Today – http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/between-you-and-me/201308/all-night-the-effects-sleep-loss-mood
This is an area I still struggle with. Finding balance between activity and turning the world and my thoughts off in order to get enough rest can be a challenge for me. Reminding myself how it impacts my outlook on life and my search for joy is helping.
- Water – In my quest to become physically healthier I have learned health experts encourage us to drink enough water. As I pay more attention to water I realize how much it feeds my brain and how well I think. There are studies on this as well:Men’s Health – http://www.menshealth.com/health/fastest-way-improve-mood
WebMD – http://www.webmd.com/women/news/20120120/even-mild-dehydration-may-cause-emotional-physical-problems
I’m not suggesting water will solve our problems or automatically inject our lives with joy but staying well hydrated may clear our heads enough to find more joy all around us instead of having to wade through a foggy head.
- Exercise – This is the hardest time of year for me to get exercise in. Morning is my favorite time to exercise and it’s cold in the house in the mornings. It’s a challenge to get up and change my clothes to get in a work-out to start my day. But when I do, my day starts right! Of course there are studies on this as well, telling how our endorphins (body’s natural opiates, designed to relieve stress and enhance pleasure) clear our heads and improve our mood.WebMd – http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression
While morning is the best time for me it may not be the best time for you and I don’t think the time of day matters. It seems that exercising any time of the day will make a difference not only to our physical health but to our moods as well.
I am not a medical professional and depend on doctors and medical studies to teach me more about how my body, mind and emotions work together. But here I share with you my experiences and give you some things to consider to clear your head, making room for more joy.
3. Outward vs. Inward Focus – The more time I spend inside my home the more I risk my focus turning inward as well. In the winter I struggle with not wanting to venture out into the cold for activities, therefore spending less time face-to-face with people, enjoying their company and serving others. I find my thoughts turn inward as well, usually on things that are negative about my life, body, etc. etc.
This is an area I have to be careful of and must make sure I’m not becoming a hermit once January hits. With the internet communities available there can be more personal interaction than 5 or 10 years ago but sitting in front of the computer can cause less desirable influences as well.
For me it is important to force myself to balance activities outside my home with those inside my home. When I am inside balancing ways to focus on others with cuddling up with a blanket, book and hot cocoa is vital. Making gifts for others helps me focus on them instead of myself. Spending time praying for others, writing a note (sending through snail mail or e-mail) to encourage or cheer another are a couple other ways I can turn my focus outward when I am feeling stuck inside.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to share with you more about what I am discovering about joy in my life. Hopefully it will inspire you to find more joy in January – and throughout the year!
blessings, peace, and JOY to you!