When Clutter Sparks Joy

Like the most of the folks I’m connected with on social media, I’m peppering my posts with Kondoisms these days.

Didn’t read the book. Still, I Kondoized my Facebook connections in late 2016, exactly when most of the news stopped sparking even the tiniest bit of joy. Did watch the Netflix series, including one episode during a 3:00 a.m. bout of insomnia. Followed it up by tidying a drawer. Three weeks later, my workout gear is neatly folded and still sparks joy. 

The rest of my house is still far from Kondo level tidy. Likely always always will be. Which is fine, partly because I keep finding joy amid the clutter.

Example: a journal from a workshop I took called Teaching as a Spiritual Journey, back when my career would have been better described as Teaching as an Exercise in Self-Torture. In particular, notes about the highs and lows of my job.

Entries about the lows are long and scribbled, and 15 years later, I remember every painful moment as if it happened this morning. From mid-September to early October they went from “the whole week is pretty much a gray haze” to “survived the fifth graders from hell” to “IS IT JUNE YET?”

The highs were shorter, fewer, more legible and prompted way more tears.

The seventh grade boy who told me how nervous he was about the football game just before he flawlessly played a composition he wrote. The sixth grade girl with “organization issues” who beamed when she reminded me to announce something I’d forgotten. The fifth graders, presumably not the ones from hell, who were “having a blast” working on their classroom opera.

It’s so much easier to notice the negative – and to remember it – not just because the negatives in that job were so negative or because I’m a (recovering) cynical grouch.

We notice and remember the negative more easily because it’s exactly what our brains are wired to do.

This negativity bias is designed to keep us safe, which is great when we’re in real, mortal danger. (In a chorus rehearsal with a gaggle of tween boys, not so much.) UC Berkeley psychologist Rick Hanson describes our brains as being like Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive.

The bad sticks while the good slips away.

Which is why that long-ago workshop exercise only got it partly right. I totally didn’t need to burn time and energy chronicling what made me miserable. My time would have been much better spent – and my energy more renewed – if I’d sought and written about and savored the good instead.

We don’t focus on the good to try to pretend away the bad, but to fuel ourselves to better manage life’s challenges and obstacles so we can grow more good.

I’ve long known that leaving that career was a good decision. Re-reading that journal confirmed it. Still, I can’t help but wonder if less focus on the bad and more on the good would have fueled me to leave even sooner, to the benefit of both the students and to me.

Looking for support to notice and grow more good in your life? Three Good Things may be just what you need.

 

Image: webandi on Pixabay; used with permission

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