Written by: Hans Appel
Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize
how good things really are.
I believe that education at its highest level is about inspiring others to discover and develop their joy. Is it just me or has COVID made this idealistic pursuit of joy--really challenging?
For years, I scribbled a couple words down each morning, determined to start my day off with a little gratitude. However, in the peak of our global pandemic, I felt less inspired to reflect on my daily doses of joy. It’s hard to find joy when schools and businesses are closing, politics undermines health, and people are dying. Our health crisis coupled with recurring racism played out on the grand stage, made this spring and summer hard to swallow.
A conversation with my friend, Rae, offered me a reality changing perspective I desperately needed. After whining to her about a couple things in my upcoming week, I turned my attention to inquiring about her. If I’m being honest, I think I initially was only partly focused on her response as I was stuck in my own head. Despite what I already knew would be a difficult week, Rae was singularly focused on the delivery of her new sofa. Don’t get me wrong, we all love getting things in the mail and an item as big as a sofa was certainly a highlight. However, her willingness to push all the what ifs, requirements, and upcoming tasks to the side to fully celebrate and en-JOY the arrival of her sofa...was...well...ILLUMINATING!
Rae’s positivity and optimism was exactly the kick in the butt I needed to rekindle my passion for seeing joy. A few weeks later, I decided to hold myself publicly accountable to daily gratitude by posting a short joy journal video on instagram for 30 consecutive days. I believed that if I could stick with it, I’d be more likely to return to my regular positivity.
It was hard at first. My friends at CharacterStrong refer to these soft skills as a muscle that can be strengthened from daily practice. But my well developed gratitude muscle had begun to atrophy in the wake of 2020. Initially, I sought out big items to celebrate as I’d frequently pester myself with non productive self talk: is this joy journal worthy? I felt like I had to make it interesting for people viewing my instagram story rather than looking for my own sofa moment.
However, with a slow cognitive reframe, I began noticing the little things that brought me joy: a cool breeze on a warm dog walk, a smile from my wife after eating pizza, and a funny text from a friend. No longer was I in search of a joy moment that might seem cool to someone else; as I shifted from externally driven back to internally motivated.
My joyful moments often center around relationships, connection, and experience. Pizza didn’t bring me joy. But my wife, putting in the effort to perfectly brown the top of a homemade pizza because she knows that’s how I love it--DID BRING ME JOY!
A generic silly text would have brought a laugh but when a friend knows you well enough to personalize it about your favorite sports team--THAT DELIVERS JOY!
It wasn’t the breeze or even routine dog walk that brought me joy. It was watching Maya happily breathing in the gentle wind as she glided along on her desired path.
Pizza, exercise, and laughter might bring me temporary happiness; but, real joy is uncovered in the connective moments with others.
Here’s a few tips to staying focused on uncovering gratitude:
Joy does not just happen to us.
We have to keep choosing it every day.
-Henri J.M Nouwen
My video joy journal on the gram segued back into more traditionally scribbled notes. It’s helped me relocate calm, mindful, and hopeful thoughts. I’ve become open to daily creativity and production because gratitude reinforces a relaxed yet focused mindset.
Make no mistake, a heart full of gratitude is better prepared to inspire joy in those around us.
Award Winning Culture places joy and learning on the same continuum of purpose.
What’s one thing you're joyful for TODAY?
ABOUT THE Author
Hans Appel is an educator, speaker, and writer deeply committed to inspiring the whole child. He’s the author of, Award Winning Culture: Building School-Wide Intentionality and Action Through Character, Excellence, and Community. Additionally, he’s the Director of Culture for the Teach Better Team, Co-host of the Award Winning Culture podcast, and the Co-Creator of Award Winning Culture.
Award Winning Culture was created by Hans and Jennifer Appel with the sole purpose of creating an educational mindset of Positive INTENTIONALITY and ACTION; with a daily mantra to make our sphere of influence stronger through Character, Excellence, and Community. Part of AWC's mission is to highlight outstanding educators, companies, and resources that support an Award Winning Culture. Both Jennifer and Hans work at Enterprise Middle School aka Wildcat Nation. Wildcat Nation received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness.