Years ago I chose to name this website Living Joyfully as a loving, yet persistent, reminder to follow the joy. And this month I thought I’d dive into some of the reasons why I chose the concept of “joy” to fundamentally represent the unschooling lifestyle.
Let’s start by making sure we’re on the same page regarding the definition of the word joy. I like “a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated.” For me, the idea of joy is wrapped up in the ongoing value of, and deep appreciation for, the lifestyle I’ve chosen, rather than the more fleeting happiness of things going my way in the moment. Certainly bad things happen sometimes, but that doesn’t nullify the joy.
So now let’s explore the pursuit of joy through the lens of living and learning.
After months and months (and months) of deschooling, I came to deeply understand why one of the essential ingredients of unschooling is to being free to learn. Free meaning, “free to choose.” So when my kids weren’t busy doing things, they were busy choosing what things to do next. I saw them learning like crazy and discovering cool new things, and all the while they were having fun.
I learned from watching them that joy is inherent in the process of learning something, rather than equating it with reaching a “goal.” And in fact, the “goal” was never the learning itself, it was something they wanted to accomplish and they happened to need to learn the knowledge or skill along the way. It was working fantastically well for them, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
At first, the idea of asking myself, “What would I enjoy more?” when choosing what to do at a given moment seemed rather self-indulgent. Those “shoulds” can be very loud in our heads! But with years of experience under my belt now, I can definitely say that using joy as an integral part of the decision-making process has helped me make choices that have taken me to some pretty wonderful, if unexpected, places. And most importantly, it brought engaged living into my ordinary days, rather than saving it for special occasions.
When we are exploring things that are interesting to us, joy is there, a faithful companion. Our mind is swimming with questions and we are so curious to see where they lead! And it’s in those moments when we are most likely to become deeply engaged in our activity.
What happens when we are engaged?
- We are actively accomplishing something—whether it’s physical or mental.
- Our full attention is in the moment with us, we are often “in the flow,” where time seems to stand still.
- We are learning—real, connected learning—though we don’t notice it at the time because we are fully involved in the moment, not observing it.
- And we are enjoying ourselves, though we don’t really notice that either, until time starts moving again.
We soon discover that these moments are priceless! And we want more of them. How do we find them? By choosing to do things that we think we’ll enjoy. By doing that over and over, we’ll also refine our understanding of what we enjoy, and we’ll get better at winking into engagement and being present in each moment.
Let’s look at learning itself for a moment.
The other interesting thing that comes out of unschooling’s focus on engagement is that the learning our children (and we) are doing, almost by osmosis, becomes equated with fun and joy, instead of “work.” The concept of work is so negative in our society: labour, struggle, trial. Chores? Work. Taking out the garbage? Work. Doing our taxes? Work. Work has become associated with anything that we don’t want to do, but that we feel we “have to” do.
We don’t want learning to be one of those things for our children, so with unschooling we seek to create an environment where learning is equated with fun and joy. Learning doesn’t become something they actively avoid. Not only that, by not introducing “work” into the learning equation, we keep it far away from the concept of “effort.” Unschooling children exert all kinds of effort to accomplish things they are drawn to doing. Engagement. Flow. Fun. JOY. Like the artist who concentrates for hours, exclaiming it does not feel like work. Like me and writing.
The other night Michael asked me what I was up to the next day and I said I was working. And then I immediately amended it, “Well, I’ll be writing. It doesn’t feel like work because I enjoy it.” It takes a lot of energy and effort and I’m often drained at the end of a writing session, yet it feels like a disservice to call it “work.”
When we use joy as our compass, we can challenge and push ourselves to our limits, of both physical abilities and knowledge, and at the end of it, say we had fun. Our sense of accomplishment is palpable, even if we have nothing tangible to show for it.
Watch your children in action! Day after day, they are great examples of the engagement and real learning that come along for the ride when they’re following their interests.
You might also like …
1. Finding Joy — Some of the realizations I’ve made on my unschooling journey that have helped me find joy more often.
2. A Positive Outlook Isn’t Turning a Blind Eye — Living joyfully doesn’t mean life is without challenges. Here are some things I’ve learned about moving through them.
3. “What Will I Do Today?” — One of the refreshing things about living with unschooling children is their enthusiasm for life. What drives their unschooling days?