The discipline of joy

IMG_0005As I look back on it, yesterday had a number of good things going on. While the baby had been up in the night, I was then able to sleep until about 7:30 a.m. I waited for the bus with the boys in the unseasonably warm morning. I brought my daughter to a playdate (which she was very excited about), then turned in the articles that needed to get done before the holidays. I finished wrapping presents, and then after lunch took my daughter downtown for a matinee performance of the Nutcracker. I always like watching ballets. She was wiggly, but I brought her Kindle for pre-performance and intermission, and I had some cheese that I was handing her to keep her motivated during some of the slower moments (this is the wisdom born of experience). We made it through. After, she walked nicely with me through the festive streets of Philly to meet Daddy at the bank, where we had to sign some forms. She drove home with him, and so I made the commute home in a nice silence with the windows open. We had family dinner. My daughter and I made banana bread while the 8-year-old and my husband went back downtown for the evening Nutcracker performance. I read some good Christmas stories. I even got to read the holiday issue of The Economist for about half an hour before falling asleep.

Of course, there were also stressful times. There were touch and go moments during the Nutcracker when my daughter wanted to leave. I know that 4 is a bit young for a 2-hour stage production. I knew there might be some restless segments. Yet it still made me anxious since I wanted to see the show, and I got her a ticket because I thought she’d like it. She both did and she didn’t. (Age 4 features much paradox). In the evening, the 6-year-old had burned through his designated “app time” on his Kindle, and was howling to have more. Kids whining for screen time just sets me on edge. I almost lost it when I was bathing the baby and the 6-year-old and 4-year-old started hitting each other downstairs and screaming for me, and I couldn’t tell if it was an actual injury or just whining, and so I had to get the baby out of the tub to go downstairs, where they turned out to be fine, if at each other’s throats. And the worst part of the day: I could not get the baby down. I think if I’d known he wouldn’t go down until 10:30 p.m. I would have made the most of it, but the fact that I was trying on and off since 8 was just maddening. Two and a half hours of my life basically gone trying to convince someone to sleep.

I find that it takes real work to see the good moments for what they are without letting the negative moments overtake them. It’s natural to think that happiness should be effortless, but it isn’t, at least for certain stages of life. It takes work to plan in fun things, and then do them and be present while they’re happening and not let the inevitable stressful moments destroy the rest. This is the discipline of joy: to know that the good life is not always the easy life. It is a constant process of managing expectations, and celebrating what you can. The baby was very cute as he toddled around the house. He was serene and beautiful sleeping in my arms when the final bottle knocked him out.

19 thoughts on “The discipline of joy

  1. Oh, I love that phrase “the discipline of joy”. I also love that The Economist has a holiday issue. That cracks me up because it is such a Serious Magazine 🙂

    My mom first took my daughter to the Nutcracker at age 4 and they went again this year. I was really surprised that she sat through it and liked it. I definitely wouldn’t have attempted it with her when she was 4 so you ladies are braver than me 🙂

    We (mostly) eliminated screen time whining here by having set days for screen time (MWFSu). After they finish their chores they can pretty much binge on screen time (Kindle apps mostly) until bedtime. My 3yo has actually handed back the Kindle early saying she’s done, which is cool.

    1. @ARC – That’s an interesting idea, to alternate days. We’ve installed Kindle Free Time to limit them to an hour on weekdays and 3 hours on weekends. If they were smart, they could coordinate and watch shows on each others kindles and get way more screen time if they wanted, but fortunately, they’re still pretty impulsive and self-centered 🙂

      1. Hah! My husband and his sister used to do that – their parents had a pretty strict 2 hours of TV per week rule, so they’d get together and choose different things so they could have 4. I’m impressed that their parents even thought to have a limit way back in the 70s. I watched SO MANY HOURS of TV as a kid 😉

  2. Laura, this is simply one of the most comforting posts I’ve read — from among many blogs that I read regularly. So honest and accurately bittersweet. I so get it, and I’m so relieved that you do as well — and you make no apologies showing the pain and the joy, with no need for filters.

  3. I really like that you presented your day as two separate versions of the story. That’s all it comes down to in the end: what version of the story are you telling yourself?

  4. I agree with these ladies, this was a great post. Refreshing and poignant. “It’s natural to think that happiness should be effortless, but it isn’t, “

  5. Laura, unlike you and many of your readers, I am not raising young children– in fact, I never did. I have adult stepchildren and I did raise one of them in her teenage years. My point is, I’m not your demographic, but I find your point about happiness not being automatic is insightful, relevant and ageless.

    I often feel I “should” be happy. After all, what’s not to like? I’m privileged, healthy, have enough money, am mentally stable, etc. My husband, a believer in sociobiology, would argue that we are not designed to be happy. The people who were too happy back on the African savannah never made it. It was the nervous ones who kept watch for predators who survived. This realization has actually made him very happy 🙂 I don’t disagree with him, but I find your message that happiness takes effort very meaningful. Thanks.

  6. Laura, I am so thankful for this blog. After a day of ups and downs with extended family, a three year old, teenagers and me feeling “off’, it’s so refreshing to know that there is space to celebrate the good moments. We enjoyed a great meal even though it was stressful to pull off and got everyone to church and home to my mom’s for more festivities. I felt tired and on edge, but we did it. And there was a lot of happy points. Thank you for the gift of honesty and reminder to release expectations that you give. I will be practicing the discipline of joy over this break!

  7. The comedian Jim Gaffigan has a line that goes something like this: “I never imagined I could be fighting in the Vietnam War and eating in a Parisian cafe all in the same day. That’s how it is with parenting.” In any event, I’m glad you were able to see and enjoy the positive. Merry Christmas to you and the whole family!

  8. Really loved your post today!

    Being comfortable with –or rather, making peace with–the reality that daily life often has moments wonderful AND horrible has helped me find greater satisfaction in those very same ups and downs! I’ve also become more content and joyful over the long haul, and less frustrated and negative about the challenges in my life.

    I’d love to read the book on holding paradox. Would you share the title?
    Thanks! And Happy Holidays.

  9. Laura, This was a beautiful article. I rarely comment on blogs, but I was so touched by your last paragraph, that I just had to publicly concur. I so agree with the concept that happiness doesn’t “just happen;” it takes work. But the work is rewarded many times over. I often try to schedule special get-togethers with my young teenaged grandchildren. If I were going for “easy,” I would do nothing. But I really want to build relationship with each of them, so I am always on the lookout for creative ideas for doing that in a way that both of us will enjoy. Last week, I planned a tea party for all the granddaughters at a tea shop in town. It took effort; it took time; it took a drive into town on a day that I had nothing else scheduled and could have just stayed cozied up in my home. But the payback was so great! We talked, we laughed, we planned the larger family Christmas party, and we made plans for future meetings. I wonder how often other grandmothers experience that kind of joy with their grandchildren. I know I was inspired to put forth the effort on a more regular basis. Like you say, “The good life is not always the easy life.” So true. Thanks for the beautiful post.

  10. A very timely post Laura. I really needed to read this today. With the Christmas break happening I am surrounded by my husband and 4 kids until January 4th. I love having everyone home. I also like quiet:). Today was full of ups and downs. Great family moments followed by loud wailing and fist fights. Thanks for giving me the right perspective of looking at my day:)

  11. ” This is the discipline of joy: to know that the good life is not always the easy life. It is a constant process of managing expectations, and celebrating what you can. ” These are the lines I had to copy into my planner. This is the message we need to spread. Thank you.

  12. I really love this “the discipline of Joy: to know the good life is not always the easy life”
    Thank for writing…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *