I've been thinking a lot about joy lately.

As a former straight-A student turned type-A overachiever, and as an ambitious and serious professional, that’s hard for me to admit.

Because, at least in my mind, we have a tendency to think of joy as frivolous, and somehow uncouth or undignified… or very unicorns and flowers and rainbows type of “woo woo.”

And yet it is also very liberating for me to own it, and to realize that everything that I’ve been teaching and exploring and experiencing through Photosanity comes back to joy.

When I pick up my camera and use it to really be present and SEE my kids, it’s about joy.

When I go back over my photos and remember those moments, it’s about joy.

And when I think back over the experience of taking those photos, and I look at the photos I’ve surrounded myself with, of my kids at different ages, in different places, doing different things, and experiencing different emotions, it’s about joy.

And that feeds me.

Joy feeds me.

And as corny as it sounds, I’m on a mission to create more joy in the world, not just for me, but for others too, and for women in particular as the group I feel best equipped to help.

Because as women, we’re taught self-deprivation - that it is our duty to sacrifice our own needs in order to tend to the needs of others.

We happily work hard to create joy for others but feel guilty about “indulging” in it ourselves.

We give, but we’re terrible at receiving!

We’re also told that joy is not for serious leaders, maybe not explicitly, but that’s somehow the message we receive and internalize about how we’re supposed to behave if we want to be taken seriously.

Of course, there are many exceptions to the rule, and I’ve decided to take a different view on joy.

Joy is not just a nice-to-have, but it is essential if you are to survive and thrive.

We ARE allowed to experience joy - no one gets to take that away from us.

We DESERVE to feel joy - it is part of the human condition, and we are worth it.

And we NEED to feel joy in order to to be able to function at our best and provide the most value we can to our families, communities, employers and businesses, and the world at large.

Joy ISN’T an extracurricular activity to be saved for the domestic realm - but a critical tool for resilience, leadership, and success.

And joy isn’t just about laughing and having fun, although that’s great. 

Joy is also about the deeply gratifying pleasure that comes from doing something well, connecting with others, sharing your story, contributing to a community, or creating something beautiful.

And that’s just for starters.

Joy is also about the pleasure that comes from truly being able to access and feel all of your feelings, including the painful ones, and being able to see and listen to and honor all the feelings of others - to see and accept them as they are.

There’s a photo of my younger son Jack that is the best example I have of this. In it, his face is grubby with dirt, and he is glaring at me through the lens, not angry exactly, but just a little bit annoyed. You can read the internal eye roll in the expression in his eyes and the way his lower lip is jutting out just ever so slightly.

It’s not a photo depicting joy, but it’s a photo that brings me so much joy, because of the “Jackness” of it. I love the photos of him smiling, he has an amazing smile that lights up his entire face, but I love this photo too, so much that my heart could burst, because it connects me to the idea of life lived fully, something that four-year-olds are really really good at.

Today’s action step:

Put aside any guilt you may have about feeling joy. That doesn’t mean the burden is on you to CREATE joy. That doesn’t mean you are ONLY allowed to feel joy.

But joy is all around you, whether it’s in the skip of your child’s step as they walk to school, or your favorite cup of coffee first thing in the morning, or the sun peeking through the trees, or a report that you worked especially hard on, or the way you and your spouse exchange glances when your child says something funny.

Or maybe it’s in the meltdown your child had over tying their shoes, or a co-worker confiding in you about something they are struggling with, or an outburst your boss had in a meeting where you finally figured out what they’ve been getting at, or the heartbreak of a friend’s break-up - these are not joyful moments, but you can still feel the joy of emotion and connection and being alive. It’s natural to get weighed down by these moments, and we don’t have to find joy in EVERY moment, but joy can help us pull through so that we can not just survive but thrive.

Try it.

You’re worth it.

And the world needs it.