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Finding Joy

My Niece and Me goofing around!!!

I was sitting at breakfast one morning, watching my dear husband help our oldest daughter with her homework on long division; a process one simply cannot rush. This homework was partially completed from the night before, but her frustration and stress had led my husband to send her to bed, so that she would be refreshed to finish it the next day. Once she finished one of the problems, I saw a little sparkle of joy as she declared, “Got it!” My immediate response was “Great!” to which she said, “but I am still not done.” 

Her response was telling because as I had learned, she robbed herself of a moment of joy and celebration. Sure, maybe one does not throw a parade over a single math problem, but it is important to still find joy in the small victories. After she stated, “I am still not done”, I quipped back with, “so celebrate the small victories. It’s what I do!”. Most people who know me would say I choose joy most of the time, and have a positive attitude. Of course I am not immune to life’s discouragements, but I do try to choose happiness when I can. I like this quality about myself, and sometimes I get asked how I became this way and how can I as a parent, gift this to my children.

To answer those questions, we go to the experts of mental health and find out what makes someone joyful, and what exercises or things people can do to move themselves towards that direction in life:

Glimmers and Triggers are a part of the polyvagal theory developed by Stephen Porges at the University of North Carolina, in 1994. Glimmers are micro-experiences that soothe our soul and triggers are the exact opposite. The math problem in this case, would be a glimmer (I have always used the term sparkle). Unfortunately, I feel like in general we have focused way too much on the triggers, which is something that can activate your fight of flight response. 

I would like to reframe how we look at life, because in my experience I cannot completely avoid triggers. But I will weather them far better if my glimmer (or sparkle) of joy tank is closer to full.   What Dr. Stephen Porges found, was that glimmers do work like gas in your car tank. Simply put, if we are closer to full, then our resilience to the stressors of life is much higher.  

The good news is that unlike retail therapy or some other form of possibly unhealthy grasping of happiness, you can find glimmers and sparkles everywhere, free of charge. But if you have lost your ability to see them, you will need practice. Here are the steps to being able to see the joy in life again:

  1. Stop hurrying, and take a moment to pause.

  2. Look around you.

  3. Be present. Focus on your surroundings, people, and the environment.

  4. Use all of your senses (touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell).

  5. Smile once you notice a glimmer, even if it is a silly grin.

  6. Celebrate! (Could be in your head or out loud. Ex. “Problem solved! I am awesome!”)

This may seem way too simple, but think of how often you miss that attention to detail. I am a chiropractor, so I touch people’s clothing all day long and yet I often will comment when someone is wearing an item that is particularly soft, as it makes me smile. Keep your glimmers simple, and your tank will fill faster!

Here is a list of some common Sparkles of Joy moments (Remember the glimmers a unique to each of us. For example, my mother-in-law wears a certain perfume and every now and then I will pass someone who also wears the same kind. It always reminds me of her, and it makes me smile.):

  • Seeing a rainbow

  • Petting an animal

  • Watching children do funny things

  • Hearing laughter, especially from a family member

  • Solving a problem you have been struggling with

  • Smell of fresh earth after rain

  • Something yummy baking in the oven

  • Freshly made bed

  • Newly cleaned car

  • A stranger smiling at you

  • Beautiful flowers

  • A cheerful greeting at the grocery store

  • Looking up at the stars

This list is small but could go on endlessly. So start looking for glimmers in your day to fill your cup. Once you do see a sparkle of joy, your brain chemistry is relaxed and oxytocin flows freely.  Please remember that the glimmers and sparkles do not replace triggers, but slowly rob triggers of some of their power, allowing you to return to a healthy place faster. I want to challenge everyone in this new year to rather than totally avoiding triggers, try to instead find joy so that the negative in life has less power over us.

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I very much appreciate your ideas on focusing on the positive aka glimmers!! Thank you so much!

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