Finding ways to expect joy in uncertain times

Andrew Lingle walks along the beach at sunrise (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Nearly two years since the pandemic’s beginning, January 2022 came to an end with a record number of confirmed COVID cases.  Our hearts are weary, downtrodden and distrustful of what the future may hold, and we are left wondering if we will ever return to a time without COVID, rising inflation or political unrest. While it is easy to be joyful when things seem certain, it is not so easy when the world is in such a state of upheaval.  Though it may seem counterintuitive, it is more important than ever to focus our thoughts on the unwavering aspects of life and expect joy in all circumstances. 

Unfortunately, we more often than not view life’s expectations through the wrong lens.  Studies in recent years have shown that people in the U.S. are the unhappiest they’ve been in nearly 50 years. According to the COVID Response Tracking Study, conducted by the University of Chicago in May 2020, only 14% of American adults say they’re very happy, down from 31% who said the same in 2018.  

These statistics beg an even deeper question: why is America not more satisfied despite being one of the most democratic and wealthiest countries in the free world? A report from Time Magazine from 2015 indicated that the Millennial generation was the most materialistic and narcissistic generation to date, often identified by their “me me me” mentality and their success based solely on material wealth.  The acquisition of things sadly defines the motivation of most first world countries, and Americans unfortunately are not immune to this pitfall, as wealth is one of the main standards by which we measure our happiness.  The harsh reality is when expectations are placed purely on the status of our wealth, we will almost always be disappointed. In this way, we magnify our disappointments instead of utilizing them as an opportunity to grow in character and compassion.  

After all, expectations are driving forces that make us uniquely human. They can weigh us down with dread or overwhelm us with excitement. Expectations affect how we experience life.  Sometimes expectations can fill us with excitement and waiting, fueling our minds with hope even in times of sorrow.   Other times, expectations can create immobilizing fear that can hinder our ability to move ahead with life. 

Because we live in a world ridden with materialism, it’s easy to find our expectations weighed down by the dictates of others and cultural demands.  As Americans we founded this country with expectations that heroically elevated the human spirit. Our forefathers imagined with unfathomable faith and resilience a nation that was governed not under the tyranny of man, but instead built upon the premise that mankind was equal because we were made in God’s image. To regain this transcendent thinking, we must have a mindset that expects joy in all circumstances. 

Here are some ways that will help you establish a joyful mindset:  

  1. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.

Remove from your life anything that is taking up space, has no present or foreseeable future purpose, and expends unnecessary energy. Sadly this could be anything from too many subscriptions to friends that no longer bring positivity to your life. 

  1. Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude.

From morning’s first moments of consciousness to evening’s last thoughts, filter your day with a lens that sees gifts both big and small as worthy of praise. 

  1. Get Grounded.

Spend at least thirty minutes outdoors each day.  When possible let your bare feet feel the earth beneath you. It’ll bring you back down to earth literally. 

  1. Retrain Your Brain.

Speak to yourself throughout the day reminding yourself of what is good, true and beautiful in the world. Use scripture, quotes, prayer or poetry to retrain your brain to expect joy. 

  1. Laugh Out Loud.

 A good belly laugh not only does your body good, but your soul as well. Call up a good friend and reminisce about a funny memory or start a tickle fight with your children.  

  1. Do You.

Be true to yourself and strive each day to be transparent in all your interactions.  

  1. Be the Friend You Want to be in the World.

 No matter how someone treats you, show them what a true friend means to you. If they can’t treat you with the same love and respect, it might be time to forgive, let go and be open to new friendships.  

  1. Be Better Not Bitter. 

Let adversity be teachable. Hardship can make you a better person. However, it can also make you bitter. The former will add to your life and the latter will steal from you. 

  1. Shake Your Groove Thing.

Stay active. Find creative ways to move throughout the day. A body in motion stays in motion. 

  1. You Gotta Have Faith.

Whatever your faith, put it in action throughout the day and make sure it’s the heart of all that you do and say. 

In order to expect joy, we have to shift our focus to the immaterial – namely the people, places and beliefs that fuel our joy. We must retrain our brains to see the world with fresh eyes that are committed to simplifying the unnecessary and magnifying the joyful in our lives. As a result, our frame of reference is no longer about us or our circumstances, but instead our value and our hope is transformed into something bigger, more impactful and lasting. In this way, we can expect joy in all things and all situations!