4 Simple Ways to Cultivate Joy, Even When Things Are Hard

Organic tomatoes ready for transplanting; cultivate joy by growing

In early April, just days after we moved over a hundred tomato plants from the house to the greenhouse, we lost power in the middle of the night.  

The greenhouse heater went off, and I woke at 5:00 am to Edge telling me to get my coat on. The tomatoes were freezing.

When your livelihood doesn’t depend on harvests, this kind of thing is at worst a huge disappointment.  (I realize that when your livelihood doesn’t depend on harvests, you likely don’t have over a hundred tomato plants ready for transplanting in early April).

But these were going to be our earliest tomatoes yet, and early tomatoes are valuable not only in their juiciness, but also in their dollar value.  

Edge and I worked quickly, throwing blankets over the plants to protect them from the biting wind as we shuffled them from the greenhouse to the delivery van, idling with the heat turned on full blast.  

Some made it through the freeze, albeit after pruning off the leaves that froze, but the plants never really made a full come-back.  This was the beginning of a hard spring.

One after another, little setbacks occurred: a failed round of spinach transplants, and then another.  Aphids on the peppers. A late snow. Another windstorm that sent a moveable hoop house flying.

Any one of these things by itself is frustrating but workable.  I admit, though, that April had us questioning our sanity in choosing a career that relies so fully on the weather, and further questioning the reality of farming on a windy hillside.  The physical challenges of farming can lead in turn to hard emotions.

But we’ve been here long enough to know that the sun will shine again, the gusts will calm, and the fields will fill up with crops.  

Now, moving into June, all of those things have come to pass.  Last night at dinner, Edge even remarked, “I feel really good about where things are.  We’ve never been so on top of things in the field at this time of year.”

If you’re in the midst of a challenging season, I’m sending you so much love.  More than that, I’m sending you joy.  

Because everytime I hit a wall, I ask myself ‘why am I doing this?’ and the answer that always comes back is: ‘to grow a life of joy.’

Wherever you are, here are 4 ways to root back into joy when things are hard:

You can cultivate joy, even when things are hard

1. Go Outside — without your phone

Between marketing the CSA, emailing, and managing the business side of the farm, I spend a lot of time behind the computer in the winter and spring.  The more I’m in front of the screen, the more I feel an edginess, a tension, a pattern of needing affirmation from others start to appear:

How many CSA sign-ups have we gotten today?  Did that person respond to my email? Do people like my instagram post?  Is anyone sharing our Facebook post?

The longer I sit, the more often I check for answers.  A habit of anxious waiting sets in. This is not joy-inducing.  

The antidote is to go outside.  

To walk in the forest.  To move in the fields, be it hoeing or broadforking or sowing seeds.

Somedays sowing seeds is exactly what I need: a physical act of creation, the trust that in nestling this tiny life into dark, damp soil it will wake up and grow.  It reminds me that new growth, new stages and seasons so often arise out of darkness, be it soil or night, or the hard times when you just can’t seem to find the right direction.

So when I find myself in a hard place, when I don’t know which way to go, I get quiet and still like a seed.  I remember that each seed has everything it needs inside of it to grow, bloom, and set seeds again. I remember that once planted, a seed will grow best when in an ideal environment.

As much as you can, put yourself in an ideal environment.  Turn off the phone, close the computer, and go outside.

2. Clear Out The Weeds

Cultivate joy by clearing out the weeds

Sometimes I need more than stillness.  

(I know, I hear a thousand meditation teachers sighing, too…and then getting back to their quiet stillness).

But there are times when before I can get to stillness I need to clear, pull, and release.  Weeding is the perfect act for these times. It gives some semblance of control, or at least an experience of restoration.

If you don’t have any weeds to pull, clean the kitchen.  Or clear out your storage. Give things away. Unload. Lighten up.

Mowing works surprisingly well, too.  

By the end of it, you’ll have a weed-free garden, a clean home, a walkable lawn, and the understanding that you are capable of creating a clear path forward.  

It doesn’t matter if mowing the lawn is drastically easier than making a tough business decision or figuring out how to deal with an unexpected illness, or what have you.  Take this understanding as proof that you can move through whatever challenge you’re facing.

3. Meditate

Ah, now that sigh has transformed into the slightest smile across those thousand meditation teachers’ faces.

In all seriousness, though, meditation has seen me through every challenging phase of my adult life.  From walking meditations to writing, from breathing meditations to mantras to singing, there is a meditation for any situation and person.  

If meditation is new to you, and you’re not sure where to start, here are two books by two of my favorite teachers:

How To Sit, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Start Where You Are, by Pema Chodron

4. Practice Gratitude

Gratitude rewires our brains and helps us see what is here, rather than focusing on what isn’t.  

It’s the best way I know to shift from anxiety to calm and to open myself up to growth, which is key when moving through a difficult time.  

When those tomatoes froze, I was grateful for the greens that made it through and continued to grow.  When the hoop house flew, I was grateful it didn’t break anything else in its wake. And when I found myself in a particularly hard moment when gratitude seemed miles away, I looked at my family and felt infinitely grateful for them.  

Choosing gratitude in hard situations isn’t easy at first.  The more you practice, though, the more second nature it will become, and the quicker you’ll move from despair to joy.  

I don’t mean you’ll burst into laughter every time, but you will start feeling a little spark of lightness tug on your lips, ease your anxiety, and set itself like a seed in your heart.  This is the time to be the best gardener you can, and water that spark so it may grow. Saying ‘thank you’ is often the most effective compost when it comes to cultivating joy.

Whatever you’re working through, keep taking small steps forward.  

4 Simple Ways to Cultivate JoyRemember that gardens are planted one seed at a time, and each step is like a seed sown.  When a challenge sprouts up, try one (or all) of the 4 strategies above and become a grower of joy.

Just like spring turning into summer, the hard times will soften and give way to joyful ease.  

And if all else fails, have a cup of tea and a chocolate chip cookie, which always makes everything better.  ?

4 thoughts on “4 Simple Ways to Cultivate Joy, Even When Things Are Hard”

  1. Pingback: Tomato Lessons: Powdery Mildew, Aphids, and Why You Should Ignore Instagram - The Good Heart Life

  2. Pingback: Here’s How To Grow Food Security, Even During COVID-19 - The Good Heart Life

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