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Hull: How and where do we find joy?

I wish you joy and peace as you venture through the landscape of life’s ups and downs. This is truly what we want not only for ourselves, but for everyone that we love. But what does that mean and how do we get it once we have established our definition for those two elusive words?

There are rows and rows of books with every famous writer’s advice for all of life’s major questions. It seems to me that if we have to read a book on how to find your joy, that we are missing the simplicity of it.

Let’s start with the definition of joy in Webster’s Dictionary: “The emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” Wow, that is about as frustrating as the feeling itself! All that does is make us ask more questions. We could literally spend a lifetime searching for joy and miss it all together because we couldn’t identify it. My Thesaurus provides us with more amazing synonyms for joy ... pleasure, glee, bliss, rapture, delight, etc. I would imagine that all of us can attest to having experienced any one of these emotions at any given time in our life. The trouble, I believe, comes when we expect to maintain these sentiments 24/7.

Having experienced the recent tragedy of my son’s death has obviously made me question not only the meaning of joy and peace but, actually, would I ever be able to allow joy back into my life? Did I ever want to tell someone again that I am joyful? What I have learned from this pain is that not only does the meaning of joy change as we mature but it is also necessary to redefine it as we encounter difficulties. Joy is certainly going to look different for a 2-year-old versus a 50-year-old, thus the need to allow it to evolve. That being said, maybe we have actually made it too complicated and consequently difficult to achieve. I find myself enjoying things that I apparently overlooked before. Funny thing is, just as I am writing this I looked out the window and saw my beautiful 9-year-old granddaughter spraying on sunscreen. Now I know that that doesn’t sound too funny, but she was spraying and dancing and singing while using the can as her pretend microphone. I found myself welling up with emotion and ... joy. It just happened, but I had to be willing to validate the moment. I could have missed it for its simplicity. How much joy have we missed looking for it?

After losing Andy, I actually never thought that I would be happy or experience joy or peace again. Frankly, I didn’t want it as I believed that it would trivialize my loss. I hated it when people said that they were praying for peace for me! I understand that they meant well, but it is such a patent prayer. There really is no depth to that statement. I didn’t want peace. I wanted my friends to walk with me instead of wishing me through it.

It definitely has made me look at other people’s grief and sorrow in a whole different light. I suppose that we actually do find some comfort in knowing that there are others who have barely survived like us. It is only through our trials and tribulations that we better able to define what joy, happiness and peace actually look like. I once told a friend that joy doesn’t come knocking at our door, we have to go out and catch it!

So how long do you have to be joyful in order to be able to tell someone that you have joy in your life? Is it possible that we are missing out on the tiny fleeting moments of joy because we have been sold a bill of goods by Hollywood? All we need is the perfect spouse in the perfect neighborhood with, of course, the most amazing job and then we will be happy! I probably sound cynical but these kinds of expectations have only left all of us feeling like we are failures and once again waiting for that perfect moment in life when joy arrives. Then, when it doesn’t come as we expected, we are often left wondering what is wrong with us when all along. Joy was right in front of us.

Depression and loss of hope can often time lead to a tragic ending. I believe these two forms of sadness can stem from unreasonable expectations for our lives. Obviously, I am oversimplifying all of this, but I wanted to address the enormous and overwhelming problem of depression in our society.

Remember the saying, “stop and smell the roses”? Maybe we need to take a step back and reevaluate what is around us.

For me, I find the joy in watching my granddaughter dance through life, my daughter achieve her nursing degree, my son finish a marathon or raise an American flag on a ship in the Persian Gulf, or my husband’s eyes well up when he sees the “selfie” of his son riding through the rural roads of North Dakota.

Joy for me is the compilation of many moments captured in their essence. Joy doesn’t have any time constraints on it or quantity attached to it. It just happens, and I need to observe it and internalize it. I need to own it! When I look back at my life now, I can honestly say that I have joy and am looking for the next moments to seize!

Hull is a wife, mother and motivational speaker and writer who, like many others, recently moved to Dickinson because of the energy industry. She writes a recurring column for Our Town and blogs at