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How to Find more Joy This Year

Ever wonder if goals and obligations, endless adulting is all there is? Or worse, imagine that achievement and success would make you happy only to find attaining your goals isn't giving you the joy you thought it would?

Want to know a better way to get happy and make achievement a sure thing? Then read on to find out more.


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This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about our goals, how we live our lives, and how joy can fit in with ambition...

And a story I read recently. A true story about a boy who didn't have much of any of that going for him... Luke was an elementary school student who seemed permanently bored and distracted at school. At home, when he wasn’t watching T.V. or playing a video game online, which wasn’t very often, he seemed equally listless. Try as they might his parents couldn’t get him to focus on his schoolwork and it showed in his dismal grades. He showed zero interest in any of school subjects, not reading, not math, not art, not music or science… Nothing. No matter how hard his parents tried to inject magic and excitement into his studies. Nor did he show interest in any of the many rewards they tried to entice him with. His favorite foods, new toys, new video games… nothing worked. And punishments just seemed to leave him equally unaffected. No amount of being grounded or having his gameboy taken away left him any more motivated. At this point, Luke’s parents had given up on Luke having grand ambitions in life, they were just hoping to somehow get him through basic schooling. And they weren’t alone in this. You see, a curious thing had happened at Luke’s school. There were classrooms filled with kids who seemed to be suffering from the same ennui and disinterest as Luke. More and more each year. And this was a few years before covid had ever happened. And Luke’s school wasn’t even the only one struggling with this. In fact, many schools all over the country were reporting an uptick in students who weren’t doing well, and didn’t seem able to focus or succeed. How had so many students lost their focus, their ambition, their drive to succeed and do well in school? No one had any answers, but everyone knew there was a problem. So Luke’s school decided to do something about it, something radical. They instituted a new program. They insisted each child would choose a project designed, thought up and implemented by themselves to complete. They would play and learn all on their own, with their own intuitively thought up project.

Sounds dangerous, doesn’t it?

Trusting these unmotivated, unfocused kids to dream up their own lesson plans? I think many of us might feel that couldn’t possibly end well. But…Luke chose boat building. Something he had never shown an interest in before. His parents watched on with doubt. How in the world was he ever going to accomplish building a miniature boat? Luke spent night after night working on his first boat until his room was a mess of toothpicks, exploded foam core and hot glue. Despite the effort, his first boat was an unmitigated disaster that promptly fell to pieces before it had even fully dried. His parents worried that this first failure would mean the end of his attention. But Luke tried, again and again, and again. Until he got it right. The boy who had refused to read despite all their pressure, was now devouring books and websites on boat building, and science. He was using math and measurements, to cut and engineer his new boat-building project. Where before he had no focus, Luke now seemed like a boy happily immersed and obsessed with his new subject. Even more astounding, Luke was actively socializing with other students and adults in his life. The only people Luke had ever been interested in before were the ones in his video games. He even managed to expertly persuade his neighbors to give him some old bamboo they had in their backyard by selling them on his boat making efforts. He even seemed to be doing better in school, now that he had found something he was good at and regained a sense of identity and confidence.

Luke was a brand new person. His parents couldn’t help but wonder: What had happened? And what would happen when the project was over?

But, once Luke built and showed off his mini boat to his schoolmates, he was motivated to move on to new ambitions: building a life-size wagon in the backyard, one so big he could sleep in it overnight. Even teaching himself how to use some of dad’s tools in order accomplish it.

And once that was complete he set his sights on a wagon that would float. And on and on….

Luke, it seemed was indeed a changed kid, permanently. It was like he had found some fire and purpose within him that lit up his life.

And many of his classmates also thrived with their individually chosen projects. They started showing a passion for learning, and a newfound sense of confidence in themselves.

Their fires had also been lit in a way they hadn’t been before, and this was true regardless of how they did in school before. Even kids thriving in a traditional school setting were were left better than they had been before.

But what on earth had done it? What had switched it on for these kids, that passion and joy?

It’s a question I suspect a lot of us adults would like to know just as much as Luke’s parents.

Because while so many of us know how to achieve, and focus, the one thing we still lack is the joy we thought was automatically connected with success and achievement.

Many of us have lost contact with that inner fire that Luke

now has in spades.

We set goals, find ambition and, then we harass, harangue, and try to reward ourselves into achieving them — into submitting. Much like Luke’s parents.

All with good intentions. Losing weight, making six or seven figures. Meditating. Self-improvement and money making… Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to want? Won’t it make us happier?

Luke’s parents must have thought something similar, who wouldn’t have? Won’t getting through school and learning the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic set Luke up for a better, happier future?

But Luke only lit up when he found his own fire, — off-book and outside of the classroom.

His own joy and adventure, the one he was meant for, and after that… No one *had* to hound or pressure him.

He stayed up for hours, all on his own, nights on end, pursuing something incredibly hard through failure after failure, slogging through difficult scientific literature, and learning more about reading, math, and writing than he ever would have in that classroom.

And despite all of that -- The difficulty. The mistakes, the failures.

He loved every minute of it.

You couldn’t have stopped Luke after he found that passion. And the same is true of everyone one of you out there reading this… We are unstoppable once we’ve found the fire.

So do yourself a favor this year. Be like Luke.

If you want joy-inducing, exponential, can’t-be-stopped growth in your life? Find something that lights that fire.

Be dangerous. Go off-book. Take yourself out of the safe little classroom of what you should be doing, of what everyone else is doing, of what's normal, and go find your own adventure.

The one that will light you up with joy. And potentially… change everything.

All my love,

Desiree Sommer

PS you can read more about the true story of Luke (not his real name) and his school the Roanoke Avenue Elementary school in the book “Stolen Focus” by Johann Hari. Great book, highly recommend.


Desirée Sommer is a former Interior Designer & Writer dedicated to helping those around her to Beautify, Style & make their lives Fun again! She happily resides in the rural beauty of Idaho with her pet pooch Bree, where she gets to take epic hikes, and plot her next big travel escapade. Her favorite things include traveling, fil eam & anything French or Italian. Oh, and dancing! Always dancing!


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