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After Tragedy: 3 Reasons And 21 Ways To Bring Joy Back into Your Life

Joy

“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” ~Bernice Johnson Reagon

My brother died suddenly, at just 39 years old. One moment he was in the midst of a regular working day. Half an hour later he was gone. Twenty-four hours later he was buried.

With things happening so fast, I found myself alternating between paralysis and intense waves of pain, anger, guilt, sorrow, and devastation. I guess we all felt this way. Only it didn’t quite look like we all did:

In between waves of sadness and silence, my brother’s children were playing and having fun and enjoying an ice cream as if nothing had happened.

It wasn’t just because they didn’t quite understand what was going on. I mean, none of us could really understand this. If you’ve ever experienced a tragedy (and who hasn’t?), you know exactly what I mean.

Rather, the children were merely being themselves. They were simply going with the constantly changing flow of their emotions and expressing it spontaneously. That’s what children do.

And so they expressed the wonder of being alive as wholeheartedly and as immediately as they expressed the pain of missing their beloved father.

We, the adults, were only able to feel and express the latter.

Does it mean that we are made of different stuff than children, then?

Not really. It’s just that most adults have great difficulties dealing with certain emotions and situations, and the name of the problem is: judgment.

Back then, while watching the children play I found myself kind of baffled. I didn’t really judge them. And yet, there was judgment there. Because, in the face of such loss…

Joy feels inappropriate.

I’m sure you know what I mean. Whether we’re confronted by personal tragedy, an act of terror, a natural disaster, or genocide, joy just doesn’t seem to be the right response.

Even if there might be glimpses of it here and there, we fear that expressing joy might be mocking the tragedy. But that’s not necessarily true.

In fact, countless people (including myself) have experienced deep joy right in the middle of tragedy, and not just in glimpses.

Don’t get this wrong. You’re not joyful because of the tragedy. You are joyful because you are “heart-broken open,” as Kristine Carlson calls it.

In this sudden state of openness there is a sense of deep love and a degree of emotional nakedness that we don’t usually expose to each other. Being in such a space together, being so present, so connected with each other, so united across all differences, is indeed joyful, in a mellow sort of way.

And yet, many who experience such joy keep it secret, simply because it feels wrong somehow, even if nothing could be more right.

Remember, “Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” And discovering who you are includes discovering that you are all your emotions, not just some of them.

So let’s replace the idea that joy is inappropriate with something that is closer to truth! 

3 Reasons to Bring Joy Back into Your Life

Reason #1: Joy is your nature.

Joy flows from the same source as love and peace; it flows from your heart.

Would you want to deny your loved ones your love and your peace? Of course not. Then please, don’t deny yourself your joy either.

Don’t push it either. When sadness comes, allow your tears to flow. When joy comes, allow your smile to shine. That’s how it is supposed to be. It’s your nature; it’s who you are.

Reason #2: Joy is your light.

Joy is the light within.

Would you want to deny your loved ones that light? Of course not. Then please, accept it for yourself as well. When it shines, you can see the path in front of you, even if just one step ahead.

One step at a time, toward light—isn’t that a fine way to respond to tragedy?

Reason #3: Joy is your power.

The deep joy flowing within you is a healing force. Its warmth has the power to melt the inner paralysis. Its energy has the power to fuel your journey toward a life in alignment with your heart’s desire.

Would you want to deny your loved ones that? Of course not. Then don’t deny yourself the power of your joy either. Because your heart’s true desire is to live, and to feel joy.

But how? After tragedy, how do you even open your heart and mind to joy?

It depends on who you are. In other words, discovering who you really are also means finding your way back to joy.

In that spirit let me present to you 21 of the infinite numbers of ways in which you could bring joy back into life. Perhaps even more ideas will show up in the comments section.

In any case, I invite you to look at all these ways as possibilities, nothing more. Ponder them for a while, and then find out which one you feel most drawn to.

Pick that one, and then start practicing joy in this way, daily. Here they come, in no particular order:

21 Ways to Bring Joy into Your Life

1. Spend time with children (there are children everywhere).

2. Discover something refreshing (or surprising).

3. Feel your body (you are a miracle of life).

4. Read a novel (fiction, stories, not the usual self-improvement stuff).

5. Travel (any distance).

6. Look for smiles in people’s faces (on the street and on TV).

7. Write thank you notes (to yourself too).

8. Create a rhythm for your daily life (simple things will do).

9. Exercise (in a way that makes you smile).

10. Help someone (with something you enjoy doing).

11. Find a color that makes you feel good (and wear it).

12. Enjoy your spiritual practice. (Enjoy!)

13. Spend time with nature (plants and pets are nature, too).

14. Do something creative (just for yourself).

15. Accept help from people (strangers, too).

16. Learn something new. (What have you always wanted to learn?)

17. Listen to music (and let your body move along).

18. Walk barefoot (slowly).

19. Savor simple pleasures. (What’s that?)

20. Give yourself a break (in every sense of the word).

21. When you have a choice, choose joy.

I believe most of these suggestions are pretty self-explanatory. If in doubt, just ask in a comment and I’ll respond ASAP.

Also know that once you decide to allow joy back into your life, joy will show you the way.

Photo by itsmelive

About Halina Goldstein

Halina Goldstein is a mentor, teacher and writer supporting widows around the world on their way from grief to growth and joy. Halina’s gift for readers of Tiny Buddha is the “Guide to Peaceful Evenings,” with three concrete tools to find joy while learning to cope with loneliness.

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  • Just A. Guy

    Children do not need to be taught to be “in the moment”, it comes naturally; we all started out as children so it seems that we un-learn this somewhere on the road to adulthood.
    Thanks for the encouragement to make room for the joy that always exists amongst chaos and tragedy.

  • Tatiana25

    Halina, thank you very much for this post. It was really nice to read this, just made my day 🙂

  • Thank you for letting it be part of your day, Tatiana! 🙂

  • Thank you – and I agree! I believe un-learning how to be present and open to joy is part of a meaningful journey, just like re-discovering it all again is.

    To re-discovery! 🙂

  • What a beautiful post it is! Wonderfully written, Halina. I’m surely gonna try every 21 ways. 🙂

  • That’s #21 in action, I think. 🙂

    Thank you so much for your kind words, Sandeep!

  • Prabha

    #21 blew me away!! It is so powerful! It is really so simple and I am glad you pointed that out in this article. Why not choose joy? I will always try to do that from now on . Thanks!!

  • Thank you Prabha!

    There are many situations in daily life where we have the option to choose something that will bring us joy rather than something that will bring us something else. 😉

    And there are many situations when we don’t really.

    Choosing joy is a subtle matter just like choosing a positive thought is a subtle matter. You only have the choice when you no longer fear negativity, or sadness, or fear itself. When you can embrace anything, you can choose joy without suppressing whatever else is there. And the other way round: if you cannot embrace everything, you don’t really have that choice, yet.

    Hence, my advice: When you have a choice, choose joy.

    Kindly,

    Halina

  • Very simple, useful and practical tips to bring joy into our lives. Thanks for sharing.

  • I’m glad to hear that, Braja – thank you!

  • growthguided

    I love #18

    It is a great reminder for all of us to connect with the moment. !

  • I love it too! (miss it during the winter :-))

    Thank you!

  • lv2terp

    GREAT LIST!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  • Wonderful to hear that – thank you! 🙂

  • martytousley

    An important piece, Halina, and I thank you for writing it. So often, I think, we confuse holding onto our pain with holding onto our loved one who has died. It is the pain we must learn to release, not our beloved. Love is forever, and so is our connection to those we have loved and lost. Also, I think it helps to understand that we humans are quite capable of holding two completely opposite emotions at the very same time: love and hate, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, yes and no. More valuable lessons we learn when we suffer significant loss ♥

  • Thank you Marty! for sharing with us a key to true Grief Healing. I invite everyone to ponder Marty’s words above. Also, visit Marty’s blog at http://www.griefhealingblog.com/

  • Becky Livingston

    Thanks Halina. You are so right. In my book Joyful Mourning (in production as I write) I speak about the judgment we have around joy and, as you mention, how children are our greatest guides to recognizing joy as our natural state.

  • Hi Becky, and thank you for coming by. Your book sounds super-interesting! Do let us know here when it’s out!

    My best wishes for your book-birth 🙂
    Halina

  • Riya

    Hi what a wonderful and insightful blog it is, you are right .. we are not happy as we are judgmental or unsure of how loss/death works. After my younger brother passed away i was shocked and there were tons of questions, there still are.. sometimes i would not do something ‘coz that was “our thing” and i felt like i was betraying him by enjoying without him. if i move on or be happy i’ll eventually forget or not need him anymore.. i am overthinking a lot here! it’s taking time for me to be at peace with me, like i was before but oh well you can do nothing

  • Thank you for sharing this, Riya.

    As Marty Tousley says below, we tend to “confuse holding onto our pain with holding onto
    our loved one who has died. It is the pain we must learn to release, not
    our beloved. Love is forever, and so is our connection to those we have
    loved and lost.

    My mother and my brother passed away some 20 years ago, my father even longer ago. I seldom think about any of them. But when I do, the love and appreciation is not only as strong as it was back then – it’s growing. And there is no pain.

    You can do nothing or very little, but life takes you there if you let it.

    Be happy!

    Warmly,
    Halina

  • thejournalceo

    I was thinking about how much life seems just… overwhelming… tonight. I literally googled “why did life seem so fun as a kid.” And I stumbled on your blog.

    My two brothers died. I was shocked and saddened to read about yours on this page.

    It is odd how kids react differently and somehow manage to have fun again.

    I guess it makes sense that kids see even simple tasks as fun– it’s all new to them. It’s hard to get out of the monotony and learn new things as adults.

  • noone

    Since all of these posts are a year old I guess Noone will see this one. But sometimes you have to put thoughts out into the cosmos and let them go. As I read advice like this it seems all well and good but it depends on interactions with others. What of us that are truly alone? I have been for 4 years now. My husband died my children are grown and gone. Most of my friends have also died and the ones still left are into their own problems. There is no one left to talk to that has the same history ad I do. No one to remember when with. I no longer have anyone to take care of. No one to come home to. I lost all my savings and everything we had worked 25 years for when I lost my husband. There is nothing left. I have tried to meet people and get involved but find I am the odd man out. Everyone else have families and old friends and are not interested in adding me to their circle. I go out and find that everyone else is either young and just getting their lives started or if they are my age they are either still married with families and happily living the good life or are falling apart. I no longer enjoy waking up in the morning and would just as soon not. I used to think God gave everyone a talent and purpose but He decided to take it all away from me and leave this broken shell. I’m done.

  • Hi, (I refuse to call you noone. It’s simply not true)

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feeling. I read them and I hear you. I hope you will be reading my response as well.

    You are not the only one feeling this way, I think you know it.

    Each of us is different and saying “I know how you feel” is a bit superficial, I realize that. But I can say that I have been in a similar place even if it resulted from somewhat different circumstances. I too felt, as you say, like a broken shell, convinced that this was the end of all hope and all life. Well, it was an end – but after the end there was an unexpected new beginning. Nothing changed on the outside by the way, but something essential started to change on the inside.

    It’s been quite a journey but it did lead me to a place where I am and live alone – – and am at peace, and in joy, and contributing. It’s still life of course, with its ups and downs :-)- but loneliness – which for me has been the biggest theme and the deepest pain for decades – is not there anymore.

    It is possible to transform loneliness to joy. Not in a day or a week, obviously. It takes deep inner work. But it is possible and there is a way.

    In fact – and what an amazing synchronicity this is – I am just now in the process of building a new website around loneliness. I hope you will find it’s created for you, too.

    It will take a while still before I’m ready to launch it, but I hope you will stay in touch (please subscribe to my blog) so that you get the information once it’s out there.

    Many warm greetings,
    Halina

  • Hi,

    I’m sorry – it looks like I somehow missed your comment. So, even if it’s been 7 months, I wanted to thank you for your words here.

    Yes children are amazing in many ways.

    You know, this year I had two of my brother’s children visit me. They’re adults now and one of them has children of his own. The beauty of it is, that even if I’m sure there’s a painful place within them, wishing their father has been with them all the way, they live a good life, and seem to carry my brother’s good heart and mind with them – in their own version.

    All is well, now.

    Warmly,
    Halina

  • A Veteran.

    My joy, laughter, and peace have left me. I feel so utterly empty and without purpose. I cry but none see my tears. I want to run away, but to where? My friends have gone, my kids grown up and out on their own. I feel I seek for something but the name eludes me.

  • It’s so difficult to respond to so much pain in a simple comment – it can only be superficial. But still…. what I want to say is this: When you feel like this the solution is not running away – it is staying where you are and also reaching out for help. As you do here!

    But you may also need to do it more specifically, with a counselor, a therapist, a healer, a coach – or perhaps an organization or a community for veterans. Since you’re a TinyBuddha reader this may resonate? http://www.zaltho.org/about-zaltho/programs-projects/veterans-ptsd.html

    Joy, laughter and peace never leave us – but when we are absorbed by our pain we’re not able to connect with them.

    Please reach out for help in any way that feels right for you.

    Many warm greetings,
    Halina

  • Billy

    As I’ve just read this blog, it has brought me to tears as you’ve expounded upon everything that makes me feel so badly and robs me of my joy and for that reason, I experience deep sadness and depression by which a lot of people, friends have no idea. I can’t thank you enough for posting this as I haven’t had this much insight in years. I really wish that you could counsel me somehow.

    Best,
    Billy

  • mamadukes

    A Veteran, you have taken the words right out of my mouth. We are the same person!! For example, there’s literally an ice storm in NC today, I’m shut in my home, and forced to realize I have NO ONE. NOOO ONNNE!! And tomorrow will be no better. I’ve managed to lose my joy, isolate as much as possible because putting on a happy face when I’m not feeling it whatsoever (even when my children and grandchildren are around … how sick is THAT?!). This causes immense guilt and a real understanding that I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this. To make matters worse, over the years I’ve begun to rely on heavily on a substance to fill the void … and even that doesn’t do anything for me anymore, except to cause self-hate and desperation – there’s this little diddy about the definition of insanity – it is ME! I just don’t know who I am anymore can barely get myself up to face each day, and am ENTIRELY ALONE. Certainly no representation of the girl I used to be that had the tiger by the tail. I just don’t know where to turn at 50 years old. I KNOW, WITHOUT A DOUBT, WHAT THE FIRST STEP NEEDS TO BE (eliminate the substance) BUT AM TERRIFIED TO DO SO. I am an absolute disaster … I thought of myself as a SHELL of my former self. It’s dreadful and I want so much to be out of this vicious cycle. I am just starting to wish I were in some type of “romantic”? relationship … someone I could share my time with that is willing to be patient and see me for what I can be again. Oh it’s just so hopeless.