Photo by: Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash
We have been waiting, waiting, and waiting for life to break open; for the return to normalcy; to go back or even forward to a new refined, resolved way of living. Throughout the turbulence of the health and racial injustice pandemics (and what seems to becoming a mental health pandemic), one of my hopes and prayers—for our world, our country, our workplace, our families, and ourselves—has been, “May we not break down, but break open.” To elaborate, I have hoped, like many, that the stress, disruption, and isolation endured in the last year would ignite reconsideration of individually and communally held beliefs and values about what ultimately matters—whether that be in regards to our inmost individual desires, our relational priorities, or our deepest ethical and spiritual ideals. Although I have not planned on a societal reboot or cosmic moral makeover, I have hoped that the involuntary pause prompted by the pandemic would yield reflection and resolve to go forward as a species in ways more aligned with the thriving of all persons rather than focused on surviving of oneself and one’s own peeps.
I am a stubborn optimist, perhaps by disposition, but also because of two decades of research on human thriving.
Cycles of Surviving and Thriving
No doubt the last sixteen months have been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs—of cycles of surviving and thriving. Surviving is characterized as getting by, caring for our own needs, and tending to ourselves and/or our own people. Thriving, on the other hand, involves living with meaning and purpose for the betterment of ourselves and others. Surviving is fueled by fear and is oriented away from threat. Thriving is fueled by love and purpose and is oriented towards purpose. A surviving mindset focuses on coping, while a thriving mindset focuses on hoping. Both are necessary and warranted.
Although quarantine created its own urgency and stress, the interruption of pre-COVID commitments provided some opportunity for reflection on life purpose. Many have reconsidered both what orients and what grounds them. Many have even planned to pursue clarified purposes—whether for themselves, for family, for the workplace and community, or for the planet. However, with vaccines available and CDC restrictions lifting, we have raced back to drop off lines, social gatherings, and traffic, finding ourselves simultaneously delighted and deflated. For even in “breaking open,” there is still a breaking.
As our hopes, dreams, and world seem to be breaking open, for many of us, we have rushed unabashedly into activities with the busy-ness and urgency having caught us off our guard. For others, we have been forced from captivity to activity with varying levels of anxiety and reluctance that also drain our emotional reserves. Here we are in the midst of realizing what we have been waiting for, and we find ourselves languishing in the paradoxical doldrums of going nonstop, which have resulted in us going nowhere in regards to our resolved purposes. The reality for many of us is that the obligations and opportunities that have been on hold over the last year are simultaneously bombarding us. Not to mention, they are perfectly timed with the end of school year hype and frenzy. Whether your inbox or calendar floods you with excitement or anxiety, take a deep breath and take stock. Central to thriving is being adaptive, which requires being attuned, aware, aligned, and activating what matters most.
Surprised by Joy: Part of a Thriving Mindset
Identifying “what matters most” can be overwhelming and stressful in and of itself. However, there is a remarkable and rather enjoyable way of beginning to identify and hone on your deep sense of mattering—and that is through joy.1 Joy is a natural, built-in sign post towards what matters most.2 True joy occurs when we are connected to our deepest loves—whether that be our passions or strengths, those dearest to us, or our deepest values. We encounter life-giving joy through the experiences that are most aligned with our authentic self—to activities that are aligned with our deepest interests and passions; to our most meaningful relationships; to contributing to our local and global communities; and to our ethical and spiritual ideals. When our values and behaviors are coherent and aligned around all of this, we experience more joy.3
A pathway to thriving in the continued COVID-19 chaos is to attune, align, and activate around joy. In a previous post, I elaborate on this process that is designed to enable you to stay connected to your deepest purposes and cultivate a thriving mindset. Identify practices that will ground and guide your personal response to the overwhelming speed of our re-opening world. Such practices may not only help you change your life, but also the world around you.
Pursuing a Joyride
In closing, during this season of breaking open, be mindful of how re-engaging life is often welcoming and exciting. Additionally, keep in mind that this might also make the missed opportunities, experiences, and even income of the last year more apparent. Attune to these feelings; name and lament the losses behind them. These losses are signposts to things that matter to us. How can you use these feelings and information to re-align the season ahead to pursue those things that matter most and pursue joy on purpose? Engage them to orient and fuel you towards your greatest joys.
The reality is we are still on a roller coaster with the eruption and disruption of activities. Take heart, you are more in the driver’s seat than you might realize. Keep attuning, being aware, aligning, and activating around joy. This will enable you to cultivate a thriving mindset that will enable you to keep on course (or get back on course) when overwhelmed or disappointed and you will find that in breaking open, you are eventually breaking through and not just on an uncontrollable thrill (or terrifying) ride, but a joyride.
1. King, P. E. (2020). Joy distinguished: Teleological perspectives of joy as a virtue. Journal of Positive Psychology, 33-39.
2. Aten, J.D. & King, P.E. (2020, July 28). What is joy and what does it say about us? On Hope and Resilience [Interview]. Psychology Today.
3. Aten, J.D. & King, P.E. (2020, July 29). How to experience joy during COVID-19. On Hope and Resilience [Interview]. Psychology Today.
4. King, P. E., & Defoy, F. (2020). Joy as a virtue: The means and ends of joy. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 48(4), 308-31.
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