But Really, What if Joy WAS My Only Metric for Success?

Photo by Huyen Nguyen.
In a recent Inspiration! Roundup, I included this quote by Sarah Jones:

"What if joy was my only metric for success?"

Now I can't stop thinking about it. What if joy really WAS my only metric for success? What does that really mean? Would that change things? What is my metric for success now?

Is it just KonMarie-ing my entire life? Pulling everything off the mental shelves, throwing it on the bed, and picking each thing up individually to ask if it sparks joy?

Does it mean that anything that's not a joyful activity gets turfed? What about non-joyful things with potentially joyful results? What's the timeline? If I end the day without feeling joy, does that mean the day is a failure?

What does this mean for other, more traditional, metrics of success? Gold stars, buckets of money, social standing, and so on?

What does joy even really mean, anyway?

That's a lot of questions. Here are some potential answers, in no particular order:

Other metrics of success can still stand, but only if they, too bring joy. I would have to ask myself, for example, if buckets of money really do bring me joy, and if so, how much, for how long, and so on.

Process and product are both important and should ideally balance in favour of joy. If the process of doing something is pure drudgery, then the outcome would ideally be pure joy. Ooooh, but here is an interesting thing: it seems trickier the other way around. A joyful process that leads to an anti-joyful outcome seems less worth it in my mind. Although, again, it depends. For example, I have had very good relationships end in heartbreak that still felt worth it to me, and others where it did not feel worth it at all.

So what are we looking for in this feeling of joy? I don't think--or perhaps don't want to think--that making joy my only metric for success means that I'm just chasing superficial pleasure in everything I do. It's more about that deep sense of "rightness" or alignment, of underlying satisfaction, connection, and/or comfort that can exist in all sorts of situations, good or bad. To borrow from an old hymn, I see joy as a deep feeling of "it is well", even if the current situation is a challenge.

So how can I do this anyways?

A Marie Kondo-style mental life tidy is not a bad idea! A little while ago I tried this practice by Shawn Blanc where you make a list of everything in life that you are responsible for, and then categorize it based on whether or not you love to do it and whether or not you are the only person who can do it, on a grid. It is an eye-opening way to see what parts of life are joyful and what parts are obligatory.

Another thing could be to make a list of things that do bring you joy, and then compare potential projects or ideas to that list.

Or maybe it's simply a matter of making "did this bring joy?" the first question you ask whenever you evaluate something: after a project, social event, vacation, or even just looking back on a day or week.

(Oooooh, this made me realize something pretty juicy: it might be most valuable to ask ourselves this question about things that we planned to be fun or special, like a vacation. So often we wind up planning, stressing, and pressuring ourselves out of actually getting joy from these things!)

I am going to keep playing with this idea. How would you make joy a metric for success in your own life?


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