Is joy a luxury?
There are many big problems.
“Justin, are you still the head of your class?” my grandfather asked each week on our call.
My extended birth and adoptive families raised me with high expectations. They helped me process the instability from my multiple moves in informal care and foster care before I was adopted at age 9, and they always focused on my strengths and what I hoped to achieve.
My last blog post introduced a vision: to make East Boston the world’s most joyful place. But we face great international, national, and local challenges, including, to name a few:
Child poverty and lower household income in families with children
Climate change—with the high coastal flooding risk here
Philanthropies, volunteers, and governments often prioritize interventions targeting big challenges like these. Humans are wired this way: strongly biased to pay more attention to negative than positive information, and to fight harder to avoid losses than to promote gains.
Should we also be investing more in a more joyful future? Or with all these problems, is joy a luxury we can’t afford to pursue?
As my birth and adoptive families did with me, the East Boston Social Centers takes a strengths-based approach.
The great majority of our children, families, and seniors live in low-income households—many with very low educational attainment and with language barriers. Many households are Department of Children and Family consumers (as I was). But we know those descriptors don’t define them.
The community of people who come to the Social Centers are united by the motto “When all give, all gain.” For 100 years, we have realized our mission of building community and strengthening families—together. We at the Social Centers know each person who comes here is on the same journey we are on: to leading a productive, fulfilling, and joyful life. Our programs support these journeys.
Research proves the pursuit of joy is essential—particularly for vulnerable families and communities.
What promotes joy also promotes resilience: the ability to overcome great hardships and to thrive. Meditation (one of five Joyful Eastie pillars) strengthens a brain area associated with sustained cardiometabolic health (healthy obesity rates, blood pressure, insulin levels, etc.) in traumatic situations. Physical exercise and supportive relationships (two more Joyful Eastie pillars) promote a brain protein that could enhance cognitive and emotional resilience.
Joy can help us address big societal problems too. Social service systems that build strong relationships and recognize people’s purpose (two Joyful Eastie pillars) can transform the lives of vulnerable families they serve. Increased joy is associated withincreased lifetime earnings—which can help reduce poverty and hardships. Joy bolsters civic engagement and trust, increasing the likelihood of our collectively persevering through tough challenges—including material hardships and climate change.
Joy is anything but a luxury.
We can only solve big intractable problems in pursuit of a bigger vision. We can only help each other and our communities when we understand that each person—and each place—holds limitless potential to do much more than simply stop having one or a few problems. Each of us and each of our communities can be joyful.
To begin building your resilience (and your joy), download the free Joyful Eastie app. To build our community’s resilience, share that link. Finally, please share your feedback with us—and share this post with friends.
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