This past November, the American Psychology Association released their annual “Stress in America” report. The results are staggering: as many as two-thirds of Americans reported being stressed with money, work, violence and crime, the current political climate, and/or the future of our nation.
Unfortunately, in modern culture, stress is often seen as a good thing. “Oh, I’m so stressed with all this homework. I don’t know how I’ll complete it by Thursday.” “I am taking work home again tonight — I just can’t catch a break.”
We’re busy because we have important things to do. We’re busy because our lives have purpose. We’re students, professionals, and making our way on our own.
Often our world glorifies this busyness, encouraging us to be the best version of ourselves. “Lose weight.” “Keep a full social calendar.” “Stay late at work.” In short, “try harder” and “do better.”
And in some ways, these are good things.
But too often we allow the busyness of our daily lives to let us shut out the reality that being the best version of ourselves includes one very important three-letter word: JOY.
Here are four doable ways to bring joy back into your life, transforming your life from simply “busy” to being truly full.
1. Create a habit of gratitude, and remain committed.
Clichés are often clichés because they’re true. Well, guess what: having an “attitude of gratitude” can transform your life. What does it look like in reality to foster gratefulness?
I try to thank God for three things when time I’m in the car or on a run — and thank Him out loud. This helps me to remember to also verbalize appreciation to those around me.
Consider creating a Google Doc of Gratefulness and add a few things to it each day. The possibilities are many! The best medium is up to you: the important thing is that you commit to a habit of gratefulness and stick with it.
It may feel forced at first, and you’ll likely miss occasions for gratitude, but the more you practice, the more you’ll see the positives in life.
2. Manage how you interpret the world.
Most of us recognize that our emotions our connected to events, but not quite so many realize that our emotions are more closely connected to our interpretation of events.
If I invite a friend to come over and watch the game and he never responds, I may grow distant, thinking he is ignoring me. In all actuality, he may have ended up covering an extra shift at work. If I finally work up the courage to ask my professor questions after class and that professor is short with me, I may convince myself that my questions are too silly for her time. When in all actuality, she may be distracted by her conference abstract due by midnight.
We should give others the benefit of the doubt and focus on what we know rather than what we interpret.
3. Seek authentic encounters. Be an authentic encounter.
Authenticity begets joy. St. Catherine of Siena famously said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” Be wholly yourself — with your joys and hopes, struggles and sorrows — and seek to see others as they are, and you will encounter yourself the way God sees you.
Begin every day in prayer, asking that you may see Christ and be Christ to those around you. Bit by bit, one encounter at a time, He’ll give you the grace.
4. Begin entrusting areas of your life to God.
Trusting that things will work out, day in and day out, can be difficult.
It can be comforting to hear that God only gives us what He knows we can handle, but another thing entirely to actually believe that when we’re going through hardships and searching for joy in the everyday.
The idea of putting our entire lives in His hands is a beautiful, freeing thing, but for many of us, it’s also a terrifying idea to relinquish that kind of control. But if we begin intentionally putting an area of our lives in His hands and strive to do His will, we can be at peace knowing that He will guide our days as He intended.
Remember: our universal vocation is holiness. Often, it’s not what we do — the hustle and bustle that occupy our lives in our search for meaning and purpose — but how we do it that can transform our lives from a life that is busy to a life that is truly full. Foster a habit of authentic joy.
And when the stresses and challenges of life become too overwhelming, talk it out, run it out, and eat that ice cream. Because life is often hard, and even Jesus himself suffered the Agony in the Garden.
In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis writes “Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than His life, which impels us onwards!”