First, what do I mean by the word joy? Certainly it means happiness, pleasure. Most people can find happiness in response to good things that happen to them or around them. Yet when disappointing things happen, they are thrown into despair. It’s tough to be at the mercy of outside events!
What I’d like to talk about is the deeper sense of joy that I found developed alongside my growing understanding of unschooling. It’s a sense of self that no longer seems quite so susceptible to the whims of life and luck. That’s important because a joyful life is not without problems or strains or challenges. As I wrote earlier this month, “somewhere along the line it dawned on me that it’s not about figuring it all out so I can finally, from that moment on, live a happy life. This process IS a well-lived life.” A joyful life.
So I thought I’d share a few of the insights that have helped me over the years to find joy more often. This process was, and continues to be, about perspective—discovering new ways to look at life. My life experiences make me uniquely me, which is different from you, but I share because you may find them helpful to toss around as part of your journey to living joyfully with unschooling.
One helpful realization I’ve had as part of moving to unschooling has been that being right is over-rated. Growing up a “good” student, that was a hard one for me to shake! But the world really isn’t as black and white as we were led to believe. Doing something is usually better than doing nothing. When you’re exploring yourself and how you dance with the world, instead of feeling paralyzed by the search for the “right” answer, think it through and go with your gut—try it out! You know what? Even if you’re “wrong” (wrong only in the sense that you change your mind later), the quickest and most effective way to learn whether something makes sense to you is to live with it for a while and see how it plays out. Gain more life experience with it. Make choices. Learn. Incorporate your experiences and make more choices. Life is a process. And there’s nothing wrong with quitting stuff.
Another big mind-shift that played a large part in finding joy more often was to stop giving the responsibility for my happiness to others. Moving to unschooling asks us to take responsibility for more and more pieces of our lives, to shift from doing what is expected of us, to making our own choices. Once I took ownership of my own happiness I stopped looking for it outside of myself. Looking inside is where it’s under my control, where I can make choices and take action. Instead of being at the mercy of things happening around me, instead of my emotions and mood being mostly a response to outside influences, I began choosing how I felt.
At first I worried that it this might put distance between myself and others but, playing around with it, the really interesting thing I discovered was that just because I didn’t take on others’ emotions, didn’t mean I ignored them. In fact, it turned out that I could sit more comfortably with them. Taking them on myself had been adding another layer, or filter, through which I saw the situation. When I stopped doing that, I found I could see their perspective of the situation more clearly and easily: I had more empathy, not less.
A third insight that grew from my shift to unschooling was an accompanying shift in my time-frame. As I changed my perspective on learning from compulsory school years to lifelong learning, I also began looking beyond the immediate impact of moments to the bigger picture. I could be in the moment, and realize that in the grand scheme of things, most things aren’t as dire as they may appear. My perspective shifted. I found I could be more present with both happiness and disappointment in those moments, but they no longer took me on an internal roller coaster ride because I didn’t equate the longer-term deep sense of joy I felt inside with the emotions of the moments I was in.
Another really helpful realization grew out of that shift to a longer-term perspective: I will always be learning. This always hits home when I look back at myself five and ten years earlier. I see how my understanding of things has changed and grown, yet I also refuse to think of my younger selves as “wrong”—I was doing my best at the time, thinking and evaluating and making the best choices I could in the moment.
Projecting that forward, I also realize that in ten years I may well look back at my perspective now and see it as inexperienced and incomplete: “If I knew then what I know now.” But we don’t. And we won’t. And angst and fear about the future that I let wreak havoc in the present only clouds my judgment. Instead, I choose to be kind to present-day me and to look forward with wonder, anticipating the experiences that will help me discover new things about the world, about me, about my family, and how we will swirl through life in the years ahead.
So as I continue exploring who I am, comfortable with the idea that I will always be learning, I only ask that I stay true to myself and do my best in each moment. That I continue walking towards the person I want to be. And my journey to unschooling has played a huge role in getting me to a place where I am comfortable with the person I am and with the idea that I will continue to learn and grow and change. And that’s a joyful place to be.