The Year of Living Joyfully: What Did I Learn?

I proclaimed 2011 the year that I would live joyfully. I even said I would try to write every day about joy.

Eh, I mostly complained.

I found that trying to live joyfully was not really practical. As my dad said a few weeks ago:

“Maybe joy just happens and you enjoy those few moments. But you don’t try to plan your day around it.”

I think that’s maybe the definitive word on the subject.

I did make five unexpected discoveries through the process of writing this blog which directly led to more happiness in my life.

1. Friends. I was really lonely in my SAHM life, and until this year didn’t have any real friends who understood the sort of strange hold infertility still had on me. They couldn’t comprehend how anxious I was to keep my twins safe and secure. They didn’t get why I was so devastated by my miscarriage, since I already had two kids. I pasted a fake smile on my face everywhere I went and acted the way I thought someone should. It felt like a charade.

But this blog opened the door to a whole secret society of women who wrote about similar feelings. About survival guilt, the need to always be grateful. These women were funny, bitter, real, optimistic and helpful. You all made my life so much better, richer, thoughtful and more fun. I really can’t thank you all enough.

2. The importance of making occasions special

I tended to slog through life as if everything was a chore to be gotten through. That is a natural tendency of mine. It’s probably some sort of genetic thing, plus a legacy of the pain and tragedy endured in my 30s. But this year we did a few things that were SPECIAL. We went to Disneyland, we saw my parents for Thanksgiving, my daughter and I saw The Nutcracker for the first time, I went to a concert with Esperanza and Bodega on my birthday, Darcy got a hotel suite for our anniversary. Those moments when I was able to break free from routine and enjoy either the wonder of others or be silly or live glamorously: those were joyful moments and I think I did a pretty good job of inhabiting them fully. It’s those moments that I remember as I look back on 2011.

3. The lessons of “Status Anxiety”

I tried to embrace different philosophies in my attempt to seek joy. Most of them didn’t help me, and a comment Lut Cass made stuck with me for the most part:

“I find that philosophy was invented by men who had too few household chores.”

Isn’t that awesome?

One book, though, I did enjoy: “Status Anxiety”, a prescient slim tome written almost a decade ago. Botton encourages people to not keep up with the Joneses, but to live a simpler, slower life devoted to more bohemian ideals. He also taught me that spending time with my peers in my area, who only really talk about working out, how perfect their kids are, remodeling and starving themselves is not good for me. Each time I would return from speaking to people like this, a little bit of my soul would die. That’s why the blogosphere is so necessary to me. Y’all are real and down-to-earth.

4. I love writing

Blogging, which some people consider writing and others don’t, is something that makes me tremendously happy. Everyone in my family is a published writer (my brother was nominated for a Pushcart this year, my dad is a well-known Bay Area journalist and novelist, my mother has won several major poetry contests) so I was the rebel who worked for the “man” and turned my back on my heritage. I so didn’t want to be a writer, mostly because I would never measure up to my lineage. Now I know that while I am by far the lesser writer of the Carrolls, I don’t really care anymore. I just love what I’m doing.

5. Laughing is really important

Whether it was:

– Texting with Esperanza about what cars are the douchiest. (Her: Audis. Me: Range Rovers.) And our bottom fives. (1. War 2. The Babble Top 100 Mom Blogs List 3. Social inequity 4. The Kardashians 5. Disease)
– Hilarious Tweets from The Bloggess

– Laughing at Darcy’s stories
– Listening to the epic tale of the time well-known, sincere, urbane Brooklyn musicians Matt and Kim played at a last-minute concert promoted and organized by my brother. The concert featured a buddy’s first (and last) performance as “Mr Hand”: he played samples of obscure dialogue like “I smell a rat” over loud, techno beats – and Caged Match to the Death. Talk about a mismatch of audience. “Kim looked really scared.”
Cake Wrecks

SO that’s what I learned. In short, laugh, have friends, enjoy the fun times and don’t hang out with douchebags.

What did 2011 teach you? What’s your current Bottom 5?



Filed under Discovering joy

18 responses to “The Year of Living Joyfully: What Did I Learn?

  1. Luna

    Oh how do I love this! I totally agree about joyful moments. We can only hope to fully inhabit them, to recognize and enjoy them when they come. And to make some of our own.
    Also I totally agree about not hanging out with douches and I used to gt the same anxiety. not worth it!
    Great post. And happy new year!

  2. Esperanza

    Yay! What a wonderful post! I absolutely adore it! And I love what you learned. Very valuable lessons indeed.

    These are my thoughts on your five lessons:

    1. Yes, friends rock. My socks off. That is all.
    2. Isn’t it incredible how much it means to make something special. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but marking the special occasions in a memorable way is so important. I really do believe that.
    3. Status anxiety is so huge, especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area. It requires so much to achieve a standard of living here that is much easier to enjoy in other parts of the country. The people who stay here to raise families have considerable resources and are eager to make others aware of that. Or perhaps those of us who have less are eager to notice when others have more (at least I seem to be). We would do well to stop that. Whenever I am invited to someone’s house and can’t believe how nice it is I try to think of something I wouldn’t like about it, like how much it would cost to pay the energy bill every month. (Or how guilty I’d feel about all the energy I’d use there.) Or how much space there is to mess up. Something to remind me that there are costs to everything, and they are not all monetary. That is how I deal with those things. Sometimes it even makes me feel better!
    4. I also love writing. I shied away from it for different reasons than you did but I’m so glad I’ve discovered this love of mine and have a place to cultivate it. Also, who says blogging isn’t writing. F*ck that guy.
    5. Laughing is very important. VERY. I love that you included your bottom five. Mi.Vida has embraced the bottom five too! Yesterday we did Luna’s bottom five. They were: 5. getting her nails cut 4. Mommy’s obnoxious pets (administered with Luna is sleeping) 3. Breakfast 2. Isa 1. Mommy (in general – she’s the worst). I think bottom fives are going to be a “thing” around here from now on!

    Thanks for sharing these valuable lessons with us. I think your dad’s lesson is the most valuable of all. Joy is not something we can embody always, everyday but when we stumble upon it we must recognize and cherish it. That is the way to make life more joyful. I think the more we do that, the more we’ll see the joy that’s already there. That is a better way to find joy than trying to force it artificially. It’s worth remembering that.

  3. Maybe you can’t plan your day around joy but I think having that goal on your radar screen helps you recognize the joy in daily life. I’m very guilty of slogging through life too. During Lent the last couple of years, I’ve given up complaining. It doesn’t work, of course, but being aware of it helps!

  4. Ana

    Hmmm. The constrast between your dad’s wise words, and what missohkay says above is what I’m struggling with….should I just stop trying so hard and accept what joy happens to come my way, or is it really important to make it a goal or “intention” in a “happiness project” style. I don’t know the answer, but when times are tough (as they are right now for us), I feel like I NEED some kind of philosophy or plan to try to reach that elusive joy. When times are easy, those moments of joy just tend to creep up. I think that is the reason that these philosophies (including religion) were created—as something to clutch on to through the tough times to prevent spiraling into despair. There are lots of healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms people use, and I’ve found that actively working on being happier—regardless of if I succeed—really sustains me through the shit-times of life.

  5. I think you’re an awesome writer, for the record. 🙂

    Things I learned this year:
    1) it’s important to wake up in the morning and respect yourself. If you’re in a position where you’re not respected, and you’re internalizing that message, get out if you can.
    2) quitting doesn’t mean giving up.
    3) I love writing, too, even if it’s a craft I still have a lot to learn about.
    4) I am a better person when I go to yoga. 🙂
    5) every day is a gift, and while it’s impossible to live each day as if you are savoring every moment, it’s not a bad idea to begin each day with that intention, to recenter yourself.

    Thanks for this!

  6. I love your dad’s idea, that joy is not to be planned or sought out, but enjoyed whenever and wherever we find it. But as others have mentioned, I’m starting to figure out that I have to be tuned in and receptive for those moments of joy to appear. I have the tendency to slog through the day, almost looking forward to its end (which sounds terrible, but I think is true). If joy appeared, I might miss it, and that just sucks.

    Here are a few of the things I’ve learned this year. 1. Worrying and fretting doesn’t help anything; it just makes life feel more stressful than it is. 2. I’m more patient than I thought I was, which leads me to the conclusion that we are all probably more ____ than we think we are. In other words, our capacity for something is probably greater than we expect it to be. 3. People are far kinder than I sometimes imagine them to be.

  7. #3 is huge for me. Spend time around people who make you feel good, not those who tear you down!

  8. It sounds like you’ve learned a lot of really important things! Here are a few I’ve learned this year:

    1. I feel much better when I eat healthy and exercise.
    2. I CAN, in fact, keep my house clean (most of the time).
    3. My husband and I are a team. We can and should work together.
    4. I can make new friends (although I’m still totally jealous of what you, Bodega, and Esperanza have).

    Happy New Year!

  9. 1. Your Dad is very wise.
    2. You fit right in with your brilliant writing family. Obviously.
    3. You’re too funny.
    4. I’m so glad I met you in 2011.
    5. These are not my Bottom 5.

  10. I like what your dad said and being able to find joy in little things throughout your day is something I have been trying to do. I have gotten a lot better at realizing the little things that can make me smile ear to ear.

  11. Awesome! Overall, it’s clear that your project was a huge success even if it wasn’t exactly in the way that you intended. There’s great stuff in there. I have similar feelings about the past year. I can’t say that I accomplished exactly what I set out to do (ahem, I actually had some major failures) but a lot of successes came from totally unexpected places. I guess that the key is to learn to notice and appreciated those.

  12. Lut C.

    Writing about joy every day – now that sounds like a chore!
    Yay for more happiness though, wherever you find it.

    1. Sometimes you just need to find people who’ve been there/are there.
    The feeling is mutual.

    3. I haven’t read status anxiety, but it makes sense, as does the advice.

    4. Status anxiety applied to the family?

    5. Thanks for reminding me to have some more laughs.

    Bottom five? I’d have to rack my brain for too long … but I’m sure my boss is entitled to one of the slots.

  13. I’ve learned a lot of the same lessons this year, although I admit I still struggle with a lot of them. Status anxiety is real- especially having grown up surrounded by affluence and yet finding myself not affluent in my adult life. It’s tough. Thankfully I have amazing friends who, although a lot of them have money, aren’t ‘keep up with the Joneses’ types. I don’t know where I would be without my friends- both in real life and in the blogosphere. All I know is we are not created to do life in isolation.

    P.S. I love the Bloggess too 🙂

  14. I LOVE what your dad said, Jjiraffe. I think it sums joy up completely. (Also maybe it lets you off the hook just a bit, yes?)

    I’m struggling to be thankful for 2011, but I know you and Esperanza are top of the list. For that, 2011 ruled.

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  16. How did I miss this post the first time around? So glad you revisited it.

    So interesting read about what you learned and the discussion in the comment here.

    I was struck by your original post having no comments, before I left one tonight and this one having seventeen after I finish leaving this one. You have definitely found your tribe!

    Like, Miss Ohkay, though I appreciate your dad’s advice, I still believe that focusing on positive things and what we are grateful can help us to be happy. But I also get that we need to feel grief and pain too and not shy away from that. Life is difficult, as is parenting, even if we struggled to get where we are now with our families.

    I am glad that you are joining the family business, as you clearly have the gift of being a wonderful writer. Rather I think you are a gifted writer, but also know that you work at your craft and staying connected with your tribe.

    Typing on my phone and tired, so rambling a bit. But appreciate this flashback via July 2012 NaBloPoMo.

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