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Updated: Feb 6

JOY noun

a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

How to experience joy even when life is challenging:

Do you know what brings you joy? When I ask people this question, they often look confused. Then I ask it a different way. When do you feel happiest? Then I see their facial expression soften, a smile usually comes to their face and they start to share stories that almost always involve other people or their pets.

I can immediately relate. The people (and equally as important the pets) we love are such a big part of our happiness and what brings us joy.

I am very grateful for all the joy I experienced and continue to experience with my daughters Melina and Thalia and with our forever love, Douglas our incredible pup.

That being said... there have been so many challenges that we went through together that were pretty major.

The first day of their junior and sophomore years of high school I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Melina (my oldest) immediately became an adult in that moment and assumed many of the responsibilities that I had, like getting her sister breakfast and carpooling. Thalia (my youngest) went through the entire year without a mom. I completely disconnected from everyone and everything and went inward as part of my healing journey.

As you can imagine there wasn’t much joy in our house during that time. It was a dark time that was filled with stress and fear for our entire family. I struggled many days to get out of bed. I felt sorry for myself and I was angry. It felt like all the joy had left our home and for a brief time I believed it had.

The true nature of who I am is optimistic. Even in the hardest moments I always look for the good. My best friend has the best advice around this... “Jo just reach for the next best feeling thought."

I knew that in order to experience joy again I wasn’t going to find it in the old familiar places where I had found it in the past. I had changed in every single way. My life now consisted of two parts - life before cancer and life after cancer. This is not a statement that I take for granted. The fact that I got a second chance to live, to get to watch my girls grow up and to be in their lives was what I focused on.

Throughout their entire childhood dinner was always a staple in our family. I had always set the table with extra attention to detail, even putting candles out and fancy linens. I did this on most weeknights and created an experience where we could all come together and have a nice experience no matter how busy we all were.

I made dinner as special as I could so no matter what kind of day we were all having we could at least sit around a beautiful table and experience joy even if it was just a few minutes. Because of my surgery I was eating dinner in my room alone and at often times because of all the medications I was taking I was eating at different times than my family.

Not ideal circumstances on how to experience joy. I knew that if I was stuck on what I had lost or what wasn’t the same it would make it a much harder road to get back to joy.

Instead I focused on finding one thing in my new reality that felt good. I set a clear intention to pay attention each time I ate alone in my room on what I liked about it. This felt hard and awkward in the beginning but I kept at it. I didn’t give up and one day soon after it happened.

I smelled an unfamiliar smell coming from the kitchen. We were living in a condo in Downtown Boston so my bedroom was not too far off from the kitchen. It smelled sweet and warm and like New England Fall which I had missed that year due to my diagnosis.

It made me smile as I thought "oh the girls are baking for themselves and getting into the Thanksgiving spirit." Due to the cancer, I was on a strict diet - no dairy, no sugar and no gluten so it never occurred to me that anything that smelled that good was anything I could eat.

Then the unthinkable happened. Melina walked into my bedroom as I sat perched back in my suede recliner staring out the window at beautiful Boston from our 27th floor apartment. “Mom guess what? I figured out how to make these for you so you could have a treat. They don’t have any of the things you cannot have."

In that moment the feeling of pure joy rushed over my entire body. Even the parts where my nerves had been cut and I couldn’t feel again. This act of kindness from one of the kindest people I know had brought the joy right back into our home.

The “cookies” were as delicious as they smelled, maybe the best I have ever eaten. In that moment I knew that this new life would be filled with lots of joyful moments with the people I love. I found joy in the present moment, not looking in the past. This made me very hopeful for the future.

Sometimes when we go through a challenge we lose our joy because it isn’t where you used to find it. Instead of looking in the familiar places, focus on looking for joy in new ways.

Take the pressure off yourself to make things how they used to be and accept your current reality. Remember that just like the past this is also temporary. Everything is.

Here are some tips and tricks on how to experience more JOY:

- Look for what feels good in this exact moment.

- Do not compare your past with the present by focusing on what is missing.

- Be intentional on finding the next best feeling thought.

- Keep going. Often times we give up just as the cookies are about to come out of the oven. 😉



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