As a career coach, I help my clients find joy in their work. Like me, my clients are go-getters, swiftly applying for every opportunity that sounds like it should be joyful. They are eager to take tangible steps forward from feeling stuck. Sometimes, I see my role as helping them slow down and maybe even take a few steps back. Because finding joy in one’s profession first requires knowing what joy feels like. I know that sounds silly, but when was the last time you truly felt joy? What were you doing? What did joy feel like in your body?
A few years ago, I realized I had forgotten the feeling of joy, not because I wasn’t doing an enjoyable job or that my life was not full of good things, but because I was too busy to notice joy. It had become cerebral instead of heartfelt. You could even see it in my posture: I was literally walking around hunched over, with my head leading me. I thought things like, “Gosh, I really love helping people through my work,” or, “Wow, my kids have such sweet smiles.” But I had forgotten how to allow myself to actually dive into the feelings behind those thoughts. I didn’t think I had time for that. I felt too overwhelmed and busy to have space for those feelings. At some point, after days became months of not experiencing joy, I just forgot how to feel it.
I wistfully remembered the joie de vivre from days long past when my responsibilities were fewer and lighter, giving me abundant time and freedom to indulge. I kept thinking of those heyday hikes up to Mt. Tam, overlooking the expanse of the Bay Area, or waking up to a big sky dawning from a hillside cabin in Hana. What I assumed is that joy has to come from transcendent awe. What I’ve learned is that awe can come from simple joys if you acknowledge them and nurture them.
I now find a daily simple joy, or as joy expert Chade Meng-Tan describes it, “a thin slice of joy,” in my morning coffee. I used to take my cup of coffee straight to my desk and mindlessly down it as a matter of course, my monkey mind jumping from task to task. Now, I honor the coffee, taking the steaming cup with me as I step out the door onto my porch. I turn away from it to take three deep breaths, inhaling the newness of the morning. I savor the steady coolness emanating from the bricks beneath my feet, gifting me with gratitude for the warmth of the mug in my hands. Finally, I start to sip my coffee sommelier-style, noticing the nose, the mouthfeel, and the flavors from start to finish. “Damn…this is good. Really good!” At most, it takes three minutes, but in those three minutes, I have transformed a task into a treat and started my day with a declaration of joy.
Even thicker slices of joy await me a bit further outside my front door, so I make time to take walks to find them. Often, I zip my phone into my pocket and open my senses to the world around me. I make eye contact with my neighbors out walking their dogs, I say, “Good Morning,” and I actually mean it. I literally stop to smell the flowers and marvel at their exquisite perfection. I pause at the Little Library down the street to see what books call out to me. I intentionally listen for the birds, and I am struck with the audacity of their tune, which a moment earlier, I hadn’t noticed. On my winter walks, I am refreshed and reborn by the rain.
Other times, I pop in my earbuds and listen to music as I walk. I have a playlist of songs that pull me into them - lyric, melody, and beat. Alive with motion like the swaying leaves above me, I notice my pace synchronize with the rhythm of the song, and I feel joyfully connected to the earth beneath me, strong and sturdy. Sometimes, I become so immersed in the music that my emotions seep out of me unexpected and revealing, freeing up space within my soul.
Last month, my brother invited me to a Qawalli music concert in which he was playing tabla. It was the tail end of a long, hectic weekend, with lunches for the next day unmade and our home a certifiable disaster. Yet, with two small kids and an exhausted husband in tow, I trekked down to the concert.
The performance took place on a veranda in the hills overlooking the setting sun. As colors spilled into the sky, the music filled my open heart. I melted into it and found my lips singing along to a song I had long forgotten I loved. I sat near my husband and held my children in my lap, their warmth and weight anchoring me. I watched their joyful faces reflect the glow of the glistening moon appearing above us. It was that moment of transcendent awe, the one I had been awaiting for years! Here it was, and I dove into it, immersed myself, and then burst my head through its shimmery surface all drenched and new.
On our way home, I held onto the high as I pulled out my phone and added some of the songs from that night to my walking playlist. I wondered, how had I forgotten how much I loved that music, how much those songs spoke loudly to me? I hadn’t heard them in fifteen years, but they were somehow sewn into the fabric of my soul.
I also wondered, if I hadn’t been practicing feeling tiny joys on a daily basis, would I have missed this magical moment? Would I have felt too exhausted to even go to the concert? Or if I had gone, would I have treated it like another task on my to-do list, focusing only on completing it instead of letting it complete me?
Through simple practice, I have learned to savor the many flavors of small, joyful moments. I have learned to taste joy in the fresh air, and to feel it in my warm mug and in my kids’ warm hugs. I hear it in the ambient sounds of life and in the music that moves me. It’s with me now, in the clicking of my keyboard and the flow at my fingertips, as I dive into work that is joy, felt and found.
Neha Sampat, Esq. is founder, professional development coach, trainer, and consultant at GenLead|BelongLab, where she facilitates connections that honor the unique strengths, voices, and missions of both her organizational and individual clients. In her coaching role, she helps her clients develop work opportunities that engage their hearts as well as their minds. Her organizational training programs include owning one’s value/addressing Imposter Syndrome (soon to be an online course), capitalizing on generational diversity, building team trust, and busting bias. You can read more of Neha’s story here, and you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org (but not while she is savoring her morning coffee!).