Building resilience through joy

By Carolina Garcia Jayaram, CEO of the Elevate Prize
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No two ways about it, working for social change is hard. Some of the world’s greatest challenges are on your desk. Every day. The issues you face are all urgent. The work is rooted in despair, and it can be so immersive that sometimes, it’s hard to be hopeful.

That’s when we need joy the most.

I believe that joy is not only critical to our mental and physical health, it’s critical to how we approach ourwork, too: It provides a much-needed perspective. It reminds us why we do this work. It connects us to our goals, and inspires us to double down on our efforts to build a world that’s better — and more joyful — for everyone.

At our recent retreat in Miami, many Elevate Prize winners talked about the importance of making time for joy to keep their passion stoked and to avoid burnout. Some of their ideas?

  • Spending time with family and especially playing with children.
  • Heading out for a hike. (Ideally under the Northern lights!)
  • Being immersed in water — baths, pools, oceans are all good.
  • Creating something beautiful, from writing music to embroidering.
  • Growing a flower garden — and making bouquets to give to friends.
  • Cranking up the music! (One of our winners used to star in a heavy metal band — can you guess who?)

Several winners said they schedule family time as rigorously as work time. Others spoke about the importance of committing to daily meditation and exercise.

Amanda Alexander from Detroit Justice Center, an organization building more just and equitable cities, approached finding joy with even more deliberateness: “I plan for it! Most weekends, I take a tech sabbath, usually on a Sunday. I put my phone and laptop away, then I sit down at my dining room table and make a list. I write, Today I want to…. And then I wait. First of all, all the things I write down are just a to-do list. They’re the shoulds, the things I should do, not necessarily the things I want to do. But eventually, I’ll know. It’s often something unexpected. I need to hear this particular friend’s voice. Or I need to walk through tall trees. Or I want to read a particular poet. That’s where my joy is today.

Another of our winners, Parker Palmer, the CFO of Breeze of Hope Foundation, an organization that works to prevent sexual violence against children and restore the lives of survivors, made a case for joy that goes beyond happiness, inspiration, and restoration.

“Joy is an act of defiance. We’re defying the pain in front of us, and saying there is still hope, there is still beauty. It’s limitless. There, on the other side of all the pain we see, we can find joy. It’s transcendent.”

In a dark world, turning to joy can be truly subversive. And at this time of year where “Joy” is printed on holiday T-shirts and throw-away coffee cups, it’s a reminder that we should not underestimate this most primal emotion. Joy can be a force that motivates us, a change-driver, and a visceral reminder of the very thing that we are all working towards — a better world, where more people will be able to experience more joy.