It's not always easy, but it's a habit that can transform us.
“Agnes lives here again,” went through my mind as I saw a 30-something young woman with her small daughter in the courtyard of my building. They went shopping, and now they were watching the crows. As we chatted, I found out that they moved back in with Agnes’ father because she lost her job after returning from maternity leave. “The three of us are living in my old bedroom. It’s not easy; we have to accommodate my dad. He goes to sleep at 8 p.m., but his TV blasts a shopping channel all day long,” she smiled.
The tears of joy
“You don’t seem depressed about it. You have more time for Maya,” I said.
“True, but I miss working and having a place for myself where I could read in peace for at least 15 minutes. But then I would have to run to the basement to get a book,” she laughed. “Everything is in boxes.”
I told her about the articles I write for websites. Agnes glowed: “Listen, this job loss was a sort of a sign. I was let go just before International Youth Day, and although I didn’t plan it, we went to Krakow. And there I heard the pope’s call: ‘Be happy and joyful! It is the duty of those who follow Jesus!’”
“Pope Francis said that the faces of some Christians resemble ‘pickled peppers.’ Wow! Serious!” Agnes laughed, and her daughter repeated after her like an echo.
“I didn’t have to look in a mirror. Even without it, I knew I had a sour face! I understood that my declarations of faith are good for nothing if I don’t have joy in me. The joy of being alive. Joy that Jesus is in my life. And this is hugely good news in my life. I promised myself: I’ll be joyful! And to think that last year my New Year’s resolution was to try to stick to a diet!”
“Mercy! Joy!” I blurted out a bit too loudly, causing a passing woman to look at me strangely. “I guess we look like missionaries of joy,” I said as we laughed.
I spend a lot of time talking to women about what they feel and what they want, but none of them wanted to be joyful.
“It doesn’t matter what happens; what matters is how we react to it,” I said, watching Agnes. She was relaxed, casual. The way she held her daughter and fixed the perpetually falling straps of her purse was fluid, not marked by any impatience or nervousness. Her resolution to be joyful in difficult and uncertain times seemed to me not only a shield but an entire suit of armor. It was something that not only protected her but also allowed her to act.
Turning to the light
Cheerfulness builds a healthy distance, quiets negative emotions, and allows you to focus on managing a difficult situation. And a joyful way of being is a good addition to your resume at a job interview when first impressions count. We like people who are not gloomy and can make us laugh. Gloominess is often a barrier on a career path, and a cheerful irony turns out to be a springboard to success.
Agnes mentioned her overprotective mom. “She was always afraid that something bad would happen. That I would climb a chair and fall off, or that I would get hit in the head in a sandbox. My mom molded me out of those fears. Everything seemed to be a trap. Any decision would take me weeks. I almost don’t remember my pregnancy; it was such an avalanche of fears. Now, when I wind myself up, I start to mother myself, and say to myself, ‘And what are you afraid of again, child?’ It helps. I turn my face to the Light. I know where it is. I charge my batteries with joy. And it works!” laughed Agnes.
Prescription for a good mood
A good mood regulates blood pressure and lowers the heart rate, which relaxes the body. It reduces the level of cortisol, the stress hormone, but it also activates lymphocytes that help fight infection and accelerates the production of new cells in the immune system.
Professor William Fry, a pioneer in psychological research on the effects of laughter on keeping the body in good mental and physical condition, introduced the concept of “preventive laughter” and advocated regular laughter.
As children, we smile up to 300 times a day, as adults, barely 17. You can certainly find reasons to smile. As my friend says, “If you don’t smile at life, don’t expect it to smile at you.”
When you don’t feel like laughing
Create a file with your favorite memes. You might prefer detective stories, but don’t disregard comedies, preferably old black and white slapstick comedies to be watched with young kids, instead of rom coms. Maybe you don’t find it funny anymore when Laurel and Hardy throw cakes at each other, or when someone slips on a banana peel, but the kids will certainly laugh, and a kid’s laughter is contagious.
What we need in a family is collective joy, reasons to laugh.
A home is a shelter, but from time to time let it be a sitcom. Once I advised a friend whose sons only came out of their rooms for meals to make family meetings more attractive. It’s hard to expect teenagers to have a fun conversation at the table. I came up with “Game Saturdays,” weekly game sessions. The young people were not hip enough to play old school Chinese checkers or scrabble. It’s the old crowd that had to overcome their reluctance to computer games, and soon they were all pushing each other in front of the screen and became one team.
There is much talk about virtual games being addictive but let’s not be so serious all the time. Their moderate use helps to function in the real world. A game is not only cheerful entertainment; it creates a specific state of mind — it allows us to experiment with feelings in a healthy way. We take on the role of the characters; we simulate the feelings of fear, competition, loss, and all that without negative endocrinological reactions. We laugh and thus deal with our negative feelings. And there are bonuses on the team level — in this case, family. Mistakes, helpful tips, bursts of laughter, spontaneous reactions — that entire atmosphere of playing side by side revitalizes family ties.
When we can laugh together, it is easier to work through some not-so-funny problems.
Today is a new day. Don’t punish yourself by planning the future. Don’t dwell on the past. Enjoy every day. Give yourself a daily dose of joy, and then you won’t let your life pass you by.
This article was originally published in the Polish Edition of Aleteia.