At the beginning of this year, I wrote about setting intentions for the year. My intention was to seek joy. Of course, I had no idea what was ahead for the world in 2020 but I wrote these words: ‘And to record the joy every day. I want to actively cultivate it, to look for opportunities to experience it, even if it’s just because I’m breathing in life-giving oxygen or because I’m still here on earth – the most basic joy – the joy of being. My friends with life-threatening illnesses have given me this perspective – to be breathing is joy! If you’ve ever watched toddlers oblivious to their environment and just bubbling with the joy of being, you’ll know what I’m talking about.’
My words now seem almost prophetic. I also did not know what lay ahead for our family either. Our move to Cape Town rang in a year of challenges – some small, but exasperating, like a car breaking down in the middle of nowhere on a road trip; others more threatening, such as navigating our family and business through the COVID-19 cashflow crunch. Steering our own and our clients’ finances through this year has been one of the most challenging tasks of my career. It required that I find courage and wisdom when I too was scared, anxious and confused.
At times, I completely lost sight of my intention for joy. Equally, however, I was often reminded of it: in a card I received from a client about joy, when I went for my walks on the mountain and the magical moments we had with our children over Easter in the middle of hard lockdown.
What kept me on track was my daily gratitude journal. It turns out that seeking joy is achieved by displaying gratitude. Brother David Steindl – Rast, a modern apostle of gratefulness, speaks to that relationship when he says, ‘The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.’
It was this practice that kept me focused on what I had, instead of what I lacked. I admit that some days I found it difficult to find even one small reason for gratitude, but the discipline of the daily practice lifted my spirits. Throughout the long, wet Cape winter, I always had reason to be grateful for shelter and food when poverty spilled over onto the pavements of our neighbourhood. I had reason to be grateful when two beautiful friends beat cancer this year and when I met fantastic people through a coaching group I signed up for. Within my own family, I saw my children all flourish and surprisingly, find friends despite being cooped up at home for most of the year. And with a very real sense of gratitude, we celebrated 30 years of marriage. We also eventually found tenants for our house in Johannesburg, the sale of which had fallen through due to lockdown. At Foundation, we celebrated our most successful year yet. Grateful indeed!
My life is in stark contrast to those who have lost so much this year. For us, we lost some savings, opportunities, more chances to make friends and some hair (sadly no weight!). But I have a record of a whole year of reasons for gratitude. It kept me going. Even just paging through my journal now released an irrepressible bubble of joy that spread into a wide grin.
I truly did experience joy this year – specifically, joy as a result of gratitude. May we all go into this season of celebration with a sense of deep gratitude, even if it is just for being alive. In 2020, more than ever, we could not take it for granted.