A feeling of happiness or excitement about life is the usual meaning for the term joie de vivre, although not a literal translation from the French. This is something that I believe most of us strive for in our lives as we invest a great deal of our attention towards creating joy each day. Manifesting our dreams, paying attention to the activities, work, and people that allow us to sense this has gained much press of late, and joyful living is at the core of these topics. Many social media posts contain reminders to follow our experience of joy and to learn to say no to the things that don’t create this. We are encouraged to seek friendships that are filled with lightness and fun, to avoid those relationships that create heaviness and problems. All good advice! And yes, these are some simple steps in creating the joie de vivre that we are discussing.
But how do we do this when our lives are more complicated? How can we adopt this attitude towards our living even when daily life disappoints us or upsets us? How can we maintain it when our life takes an unexpected, and often unwanted, curve? When there is serious illness, grief, and other seeming obstacles?
Working with people facing serious or terminal illness, I’ve been blessed to learn much about finding the joy in my own living. Witnessing those I work with seeking life closure or facing the fact that there is no longer the perception of unlimited time are just some of the emotional challenges that these circumstances bring. Most often, their relationships are seen with new eyes as the gift of their loved ones surrounding them becomes more obvious, and the preciousness of time left to share together is enjoyed. Deep emotions that may have been difficult to talk about suddenly become easier to voice, and conversations take on a new depth as the need to communicate what is in each heart is intuitively felt. Sharing a wedding anniversary or a special holiday with family is cherished because the realization that it may be the last together is apparent. Life gains new meaning; joy in living with the awareness of limited time is felt in new ways, often as sensing the vibrancy of the special moments spent together or experiencing the radiance of the natural world that may have been overlooked before.
These things have taught me a very great deal. I have been led to see that these moments, relationships, and the deep heartfelt words shared are the true gifts of life. They are the seeds of what joy in living means to me. These become the legacy of each person that lives on after we are gone from this life. Joie de vivre has become a focus to my living as I follow the steps that these mentors have shown me, to seek the things that come from awareness of the preciousness of my life and all that are in it.
In my new book, Life as a Prayer, I talk about this joyous gift. For those facing a serious diagnosis, time is short. Turning inward, towards the whispers from their heart happens intuitively yet it is intense. Their illness and the necessary medications often rob mental clarity, fatigue or pain create other conditions that don’t promote this inner spiritual work. For many, illness and decline happen rapidly, the opportunity to see and share with those that they may need to isn’t possible. I have been given the chance to not wait! To realize the joy that comes from doing this inner work daily.
“….As I’ve observed all of this, I’ve learned to treasure the enormous gift of time: time to resolve the many conflicts of my living as I walk through it each day. I have been blessed with the sense of no hurry, allowing these areas to open and unfold on their own, in gentle awareness, until I’m ready to look deeper; time for relationships to heal, grow, and transform naturally in my life. And as I release these old barriers more and more, my energy level just keeps growing; I feel more fully alive, aware, and grateful each day. Creating my lifestyle with this prayerful intention helps me to live my life as a prayer.”
The gift of health and of seeming normalcy to our lives gives us the golden opportunity to do this spiritual work in our health and vitality. It does require a shift to a spiritual perception of life, away from our outer lives and all its demands. The gift of grace is laced through this spiritual awareness, and our reward is living life fully alive, engaged, and joyfully cherishing life in the moment.
If you are interested in exploring this further, join me in Sturgeon Bay WI on Tuesday, August 20th for a Reflective Writing Workshop “Discovering Joie de Vivre”.