In many ways, my memoir, Reclaiming Joy, is a love letter to Nantucket, for this is where I first experienced sustained joy after Lev’s death, which I described in last week’s blog. Though I know intellectually that I had many moments of joy even in the midst of the thick fog of grief, my memories of the pain and anxiety are much more vivid.
Sheryl Sandberg, the young COO of Facebook, taught me to focus on the joy, rather than the pain. In her 2016 speech to the University of California–Berkeley graduating class, Sandberg—widowed one year 13 days earlier—described being “swallowed in the deep fog of grief.”
Gratitude Overcomes Grief
Although I figured out the importance of gratitude early in my journey, I like what Sandberg has to say. She was advised to “think about how much worse things could be.” Her husband could have suffered the fatal aneurysm while driving the children. She had much to be thankful for. “Gratitude overtook some of the grief.”
While I took time to say thank you God at lunch every day, Sandberg learned to end each day by writing down three things she was thankful for. She went to sleep each night focused on “that day’s moments of joy,” instead of ruminating about the bad parts of that day or worrying about her responsibilities the next day. Like so many of us, she bore witness to the fact that gratitude leads to resilience and resilience leads to joy.
How I wish I had written down my noonday prayers, all that I found to be thankful for. Just three moments a day add up to more than 1,000 a year. On the darkest, most discouraging and depressing days, looking back through a journal of joy and gratitude would be enough to keep me going another day.
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy
Sandberg developed her thoughts in more depth the next year (too late to cite in my book) in her best-selling memoir of grief, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, coauthored with psychologist Adam Grant:
We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events. After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P’s can stunt recovery: (1) personalization—the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness—the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence—the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever. The three P’s play like the flip side of the pop song “Everything Is Awesome”—“everything is awful.” The loop in your head repeats, “It’s my fault this is awful. My whole life is awful. And it’s always going to be awful.”
Hundreds of studies have shown that children and adults recover more quickly when they realize that hardships aren’t entirely their fault, don’t affect every aspect of their lives, and won’t follow them everywhere forever. Recognizing that negative events aren’t personal, pervasive, or permanent makes people less likely to get depressed and better able to cope.
Shout it from the rooftops: …three P’s can stunt recovery: (1) personalization—the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness—the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence—the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever. The three P’s play like the flip side of the pop song “Everything Is Awesome”—“everything is awful.”
That’s why that I am taking the time this summer on Nantucket to identify moments of joy as I experience them each day. My iPhone is my journal, and at the end of every day I go through the photos and remind myself of the best moments of the day. At some point—usually over coffee the next morning—I post those moments of joy on Instagram or Facebook, #homealoneonnantucket and #reclaimingjoy.
Friends—the ones who haven’t visited me here—wonder how I can come to so remote a place, so far away from friends and family, each summer.
We All Need a Place That Gives Us Peace
As I wrote in my book, “We all need a place that gives us peace and settled happiness, a place of good memories and keen anticipation. For me that place was Nantucket, a sanctuary for me as it was for those New England dissidents who arrived in 1659, seeking refuge from Puritan harassment on the mainland. And though the Quaker sea captains and merchants who dominated Nantucket for more than a century are long gone, island values still reflect their pacifism, simplicity, and unpretentiousness. While I smiled at the t-shirts that proclaimed that “America is that large island off the coast of Nantucket” and at Nantucketers’ references to “going to America” when they left the island, “America” seemed very far away and inconsequential when I was there. I lived in the present. I was at peace. And I was overwhelmingly grateful.”
Though I wrote Reclaiming Joy in past tense, I can say in present tense that is still the place that gives me peace and settled happiness. It is my sanctuary, my soul’s home. I am at peace. I am grateful. And yes, I am consciously, intentionally reclaiming joy every day.
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The Latest News
Publishers Weekly includes Reclaiming Joy in its review of religious and spiritual memoirs in the June 18 issue. The book cover is one of three selected to illustrate the story.
“Have books, will travel” will be my slogan this coming year, and I welcome opportunities to speak at churches, libraries, book clubs and other groups large or small. If it’s a day’s drive from Corpus Christi or Dallas or I can get there on Southwest or American without too many transfers, I’d love to come.
I have blogged before about Sheryl Sandberg and her journey from grief:
C.S. Lewis has greatly influenced my understanding of the difference between joy and settled happiness and the important roles memory and anticipation play in experiencing joy. Among the blogs where I refer to him:
Parts of this week’s blog were adapted from my forthcoming memoir, Reclaiming Joy, to be released September 15 by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press. You may preorder here from the Press, Amazon or Barnes & Noble.