The Joy Project
Nov 22, 2021 Beth Monaghan
In January 2020, I made a pact with my friend, Starla. We’d hold ourselves accountable to joy for one year. We named it The Joy Project and it became a lifeline as we tumbled through the pandemic. I’d always been skeptical of gratitude practices because sometimes life sucks and when it does, it helps to say so. Why was I over there in early 2020 suggesting one then? I have no idea, but looking back maybe it was the universe’s hand guiding me toward the help I'd need.
As I sat down to write this post about gratitude, I returned to the log I kept of our joy correspondence. It started off light. We found joy in air plants, the “align vertically” function in PowerPoint, the time my dog stole a cookie and gave it to me uneaten because she’d really wanted attention.
But in March as Covid-19 shut down the world, I told Starla I was grateful for my dog because she laid her head across my chest where I could feel her soft breathing, which helped steady my own. In April when the reality of quarantine set in, I told her that at 2:30 a.m. when I sat down with a cup of tea because I couldn’t sleep, I looked out the window and saw lights blazing in four houses down the road and I felt less alone.
In June, I told her that our country was on fire as we reeled from George Floyd’s murder. She said she was thankful for pets who were not impacted by our country being turned inside out. In July I told her that I could break down in tears once every other day, or more. She said, “Yes! It IS a hard hard time AND this is what we have now. So we can spend all our time mourning ... or just some of the time mourning and the rest looking for diamonds.”
The Joy Project taught me that joy and gratitude are practices that create new grooves in our brains. The more I looked for joy the more I found, and the practice became a counterbalance for the hard stuff. This year we were supposed to go back to normal, and for a few short weeks over the summer we thought we did. So as we work our way out of that collective trauma and continue to sludge through this new new normal, here are a few of my 2021 joys and gratitudes:
Permission to not be okay.
We’re all a bit more real at work and at home. There is less pressure to pretend that life is wonderful when it’s not, which brings us closer. Crying at work is human. We talk about anxiety, depression, therapy and it becomes normalized.
Returning to the world.
My first business trip took me down the west coast to visit the Inkhouse teams out there. It wasn’t normal. Parts of Seattle were boarded up still and San Francisco’s Market Street was too quiet. But I got to see people who reminded me how to laugh, and I flew across the country and didn’t get Covid-19. The next trip to NYC was easier. I found joy when the adults clapped on a carousel of fish in Battery Park. And with our New York team, who we took to our new office after dinner one night at 10 p.m. It felt like we were summer camp kids sneaking into the cafeteria.
Clients who believe in us.
We’ve changed almost everything about the ways in which we work and our clients were often the ones cheering for us when we did things like declare random mental health days. They’ve met us at coffee shops, in masks, and on countless hours of Zoom calls. A few have met my children as they tried to sneak behind me doing the army crawl to get something from the printer. I’ve heard from more clients with praise this year than any in my memory, which was a joy. I’m usually the place where problems come to get solved.
One of my favorite days this year was the launch of our second book, “Aren’t We Lucky?,” with stories of resilience from the Inkhouse team. It’s transformational to speak your truth out loud, and to also bear witness to it. I don’t know a greater joy than healing through community.
A team that supports one another.
I do listening sessions twice a year and the first question I ask is “What are your delights?” (the last is “What are your concerns?”). Some employees told me they feel most like themselves with their co-workers. Others talked about teammates who filled in when they needed to be with their children who have to be home from school so much more during a time when every cough might be Covid. I heard about others who created new training programs to reach a hand back and pull the next people up faster. People can be simply awesome.
The rhythm of nature.
I chased down a good number of winter sunsets last year to help regulate my nervous system. In the spring, my husband planted zinnias in our yard to remind me of my grandmother and I found myself checking on them every morning before work. And this fall, I’m grateful for the way the trees let go of their leaves without clinging as they trust that their next turn will come.
The Joy Project is officially over, although spontaneous texts about joy are always welcome from anyone anytime. But the practice has stayed with me. I’ve begun writing down the things I’m grateful for next to the list of things for which I need support. They go together.
Happy Thanksgiving. May joy find its way to you.