Wendy Woolfson

Fake It To Make It

I’m sitting in a café at the Beatson as I write this. The Beatson is the main cancer treatment centre in Glasgow, and a place I’m getting more familiar with on each visit. It’s not somewhere I enjoy attending, and it does not make me happy.

Lately, the topic of joy has been coming up, so I thought I would have a look at it. It’s not something I’ve ever properly understood or explored but I’ll do my best.

I know someone who runs laughter workshops and whose business it is to bring joy to others and help them to become more joyful in their lives. I attended one of their workshops many years ago, and I remember I found it extremely difficult and exhausting. During the session one of the things we did was fake laughing; the idea that by pretending to laugh it would lead to a sensation of happiness and real laughter. As we got into it, I could see that the other participants were getting a lot out of it but I found it really hard to do. I did genuinely laugh at times  but I also felt exhausted and strained. I like to laugh as much as anyone else but if you asked me if I experienced joy in that moment, I would have to say no. That’s no reflection on the workshop or the facilitator, that’s just me, I didn’t understand what joy was or what it was meant to feel like. I thought of joy as being something that is loud and exuberant, an extrovert emotion that causes a huge feeling of elation. I was also going through a tough time in my life and it was simply bad timing. I didn’t understand the purpose of the work and I still had much to learn about joy.

I went to that workshop because I was unhappy and I wanted to change how I felt by experiencing joy, this elusive thing that I could never quite grasp. I also believed, and still do, that the world needs more joy in it, and that if we start with us, it spreads. I wonder if you’ve seen the video of a man standing in a busy train carriage, and he starts to laugh, quietly at first, and then a bit louder, seemingly laughing at something funny to himself. But the more he continues to laugh, the people beside him begin to laugh too and very quickly the whole carriage is laughing and smiling with each other. It’s beautiful to watch and I couldn’t help but laugh as I was watching, and I’m even smiling as I type this and remember it. It’s true, laughter is contagious.

They say that laughter is the best medicine, and who knows if that is actually true but I know I always feel better after I’ve had a good laugh about something. It lifts my energy and my spirits. I’m still smiling as I write this because I’m writing about laughter and smiling, isn’t that funny?

When I was going through therapy, I barely lifted the corners of my mouth. I had lost the will to even try to be happy. I can remember looking at people who were laughing and smiling and hating them, whilst not understanding how they could be so happy. Where did that laughter come from? What was making them so happy? I was lost and all I could see was the darkness and no light. I couldn’t be bothered trying to be happy, it needed too much energy, like in the laughter workshop, it was exhausting to laugh. For me, there was no point left in life. As far as I could see there was nothing to feel happy about.

Gradually, as therapy continued and the years passed by, I began to feel better, and as that happened I started to notice the lighter things in life. I can’t remember exactly how or when it happened but I can remember it started with music. I decided I was going to listen to different music, something uplifting. I had been listening to a lot of dark and sad music, which had fitted my mood but now I recognised that I was starting to feel better and it was time to switch it up and see what happened. I had a long commute to work so I had a couple of hours each day to listen, and it was interesting because I found this new music lifted my spirits and I began to feel better. I can honestly say I haven’t looked back. I’ve broadened the music I listen to and have started to find more joy in my life. This isn’t because I’ve acquired anything new except for a new perspective on life.

One day, during that period, I was out for a walk in the woods, and I asked out loud to the universe to show me joy, to  teach me what joy is. I declared, “I am open to receiving joy!.” There’s research evidence that says what we surround ourselves with can influence our mood, what we allow ourselves to access can have influence. I gave myself permission to start exploring joy again although I still didn’t get it. I thought maybe I’m just not an exuberant kind of person that can put that much energy into my own happiness. I thought there was something wrong with me, and then I made a discovery. Someone told me that joy is not always laughing heartily and throwing our arms up in excitement, joy can also be a feeling of quiet happiness, and a gentle sensation in your heart of elation. Sometimes it is a soft and quiet moment of happiness.

From that day I worked hard to see things differently, and over time I did indeed begin to feel joy flowing toward me, and I realised this was more about gratitude than anything else. My gratefulness for all the different things I had in my life, the people, possessions, experiences. I soon began to feel my spirits lift inside and that gentle elation in my heart rise, or in my solar plexus. When something lifted me inside I could feel what could only be described as joy but in a quiet and peaceful way. It made me smile, relax, and feel content. I also found I could laugh in a way I never had before. I laughed with confidence and freedom and a self-assuredness I’d never had before. I’ve found that joy can be experienced as a peaceful freedom to be myself in whatever way fits for me, even when it’s a quiet moment of calm sitting under the willow trees I planted four years ago when they were mere twelve-inch sticks in the ground.

Don’t get me wrong, I can have a good belly laugh at a comedy show and laugh at jokes just like anyone but when it comes to joy, I feel it as a warm and reassuring sensation in my heart. I feel it as peace in my soul when I know that all is well in my world.

God knows I need joy in my life just now. And sometimes I need to fake it to make it, especially when I’m with my youngest child. It comes more easily now, like when I stop for a moment and pay attention to my breathing and my surroundings and practice my gratitude for what I have got rather than what I have not got. Right now, there is peace in this moment looking out of my window at the weather, the trees moving in the wind, the sound of Rachmaninov being played by my son on the piano rising up from downstairs, and the quiet as I finish writing this piece in the comfort of my own home. Finally, I have found that for me, peace is my joy.