Achieving and maintaining joy is a distinct challenge for Black people. We are so often stuck in survival mode that moments of joy sometimes elude us. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory proposes that people can never move onto higher levels of fulfillment if they are unable to satiate basic level needs such as safety and nourishment. The interlocking systems of imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, and hetero-ableist patriarchy keep us in a space where Black lives are perpetually threatened by resource deprivation, police violence, health disparities, and internalized self-hatred. All of this amounts to us reacting to pain and, as Toni Morrison said in a speech at Portland State University, “from doing our work.” We are often unable to do the work of self-care and pursuing happiness.
As much as we fight for our physical lives, which is unfortunately still necessary, we must at the same time be adamant about fortifying our psychological well-being. We must become agents of joy as much as we are agents of justice. It fact Black liberation cannot come without Black joy.
1. Create a positive events schedule
2. Look for the silver lining in the gray clouds
3. Profess your gratitude
4. Share the joy: let someone else know what you like about them
Positive event scheduling is making time to do something that you like, something that brings you happiness. You will want to schedule these events because sometimes when you’re constantly busy – with things like working, taking care of your children, or trying not to go insane due to all the horrible news in the media – it can be hard to fit in the small but important things like making time for yourself. Take 10 minutes before you go to bed at night or a weekend morning to just do something that is selfish. During this time do something you liked to do when you were a child or work on your art. Maybe you used to love to dance to Michael Jackson songs when you were 10 years old. When was the last time you did that? How about making time to do it now? Put on “Beat It” and dance the stress of oppression away, if only for a few minutes.
With all the hate directed toward Black people, it can be hard to imagine the bright side of anything. But light is always on the other side of darkness. Someone’s malicious intent can set you up for greatness. For example, I was grossly underutilized at my old job. My supervisors were competitive and were more interested in keeping me “in my place” than mentoring me. This was distressing at first, but after a while, I deemed it a blessing. Because I was so marginalized, the few tasks they gave me to do took up so little of my time I was able to co-edit a book in the meantime. What "bad" thing can you use for your good?
Anxiety and stress cannot exist in the same moment with gratitude. When you start to feel overwhelmed, think about the great things you have going on. Okay, your job sucks and your paycheck is stretched thin, but were you at least able to pay all of your bills? If so, focus on that gratitude. Gratitude will lift you out of the pressured moment and give you energy to think about what you do have or at least figure out the next steps to become even better than you are currently. You may even find it helpful to keep a gratitude list.
Joy is contagious. When we compliment someone, that person becomes happy. That person’s happiness flows from them back to us. And from us to them. We can become conductors of joy by being joy agents for others. So say something nice to someone else. Pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line. Creating joy for someone else, makes more joy available to us all.
Oppression attacks the body and the mind. We take to the streets to fight for our physical livelihood. We must focus internally to preserve our minds.