More Joy For All Women

The Sensibilities of Sensuality – Experiencing Joy of Life

Take a moment and think back of your day today. Recall a moment when you felt the happiest? If there wasn’t such a moment today, think of one earlier this week… or month or year… Maybe it is right now?

What was it about? Where in your body did you feel it? Was it a sensation of delight in your mouth? On your skin? Or did you see or hear something that pleased you?cherry blossoms

How do you know you felt happy?  Were you happy or content? Or just pleased? Or did you experience real joy? What is the difference? Is there a difference? Did anyone else know you felt that way? How do you know if they knew?

These questions assume that happiness is a fleeting experience not a state of being.  They have given my life a new focus. I’m curious at what point basic contentment and satisfaction turn into either dullness or joy.

I’ve become passionately interested in how women perceive happiness because I’m determined to live a happy life despite of all my neurotic anxieties and mounting worries.

It was a cruel realization at the beginning of a new relationship after my marriage had ended that my primary relationship had been devoid of wholehearted laughter for a very long time. It has been refreshing to laugh and share our sense of humor with my new partner.

My marriage of 25 years had evolved into a smooth logistics operation without passion and humor. More often than not I found myself defensive or critical. I felt contempt and disapproval for my sense of humor and the way I was. In that environment laughter didn’t bubble and the sense of happiness bloom. Life was more shades of gray than bright reds and yummy yellows. I found joy refuge with dear girlfriends. And with my clients, of whom most are women.

But in talking with these women, I came to conclude that many of them were actually living somewhat the same way as I did: strangled in seriousness and being joy-deficient.

So, if you also suffer from “joy deficiency” – why is it? And what are you doing about it? What is holding you back from embracing happiness?

More people are searching for the golden keys to happiness than ever before. It has become one of the hottest research topics at Harvard. Books are being written and Oprah has produced shows about it. CBS and other networks bring the topic to our living rooms. June 12th was named the day of Action for Happiness and March 20th the World Happiness Day. Countries like Bhutan are measuring their Gross Happiness Quotient and there are organizations like Gallup and others who survey the levels of well-being and happiness domestically and internationally.  Finland has been named the Happiest Country in the World for six consecutive years (a documentary film about it, “The Happiest Country in the World” by David Arond is being launched this month internationally).

It is interesting that positive psychology is gaining more acceptance while we are living in one of the most depressing times in some sense: there are wars and unrest all around us. For many, this are very bad times.

Meanwhile, however, happiness research is booming. Researchers have puzzled over why married people report more happiness than singles. In addition, in 2011 in the USA, while 45 percent of Republicans said they’re “very happy”,  only 30 percent of Democrats did so. In 2024, life satisfaction has risen 5 points among Democrats and plummeted 10 points among Republicans according to Gallup.

The results show that women are unhappier than in the 1970s. They are spending the same number of hours working now, on average, as in the 1970s, although a greater percentage now is outside work. As for housework, men have picked up a greater, though still minority, share. Much of the cooking and cleaning is now “hired out” or simply goes undone (Americans now spend $26 billion more each year on restaurants than grocery stores.)

Even so, men today report spending less time on activities they regard as stressful and unpleasant than a few decades ago. Women still spend about 23 hours a week in the unpleasant-activity zone – which was about 40 minutes more than men four decades ago, and now amounts to 90 minutes more than men.

This gender-based “happiness gap” is particularly complicated, given that men tend to see “Are you happy?” as a yes-or-no proposition. For women, it’s an essay question. Or maybe the happiness gap isn’t new at all. “Freakonomics” author and economist Steven Levitt suggests “there was enormous social pressure on women in the old days to pretend they were happy even if they weren’t.”

So, are we maybe just more self-aware and honest today?

The fact remains that there are both internal and external forces that hold us back from experiencing joy.  Externally it can be the circumstances we live in whether they are due to tensions within our families, unemployment or situations at a macroeconomic level. Internally we can be held back by our lack of confidence or our unforgiving nature due to perfectionism. Only when we acknowledge these challenges, we can work with the reality they create. And this means we need to do some work to know ourselves.

In my coaching and interviews with women at their midlife it frequently comes up that joy is no longer a constant in the lives of professionally and personally busy women.

While our 30s is about self-promotion and learning the ropes for the future and stepping into leadership as a mother or at work, the 40’s is considered the death of youth as it is defined by the heavier load of responsibilities of adulthood – it is all about others. At around 50 everything is under re-consideration and not taken for granted anymore. It is the time of reckoning: is my life truly satisfying? Am I happy? What happened to my joy? What am I tolerating? Where am I compromising? Who am I and what do I really want? This is the time when many women file for divorce.

What can we do about the status of our personal wellbeing and happiness? How can we increase our level of happiness because research shows that there are many life-affirming benefits to choosing to live “happily” – even in dire circumstances.  For example, it has been shown that happy people are perceived more attractive and trustworthy, they get promoted more and they are more productive at work. In other words, if you are happy to begin with, you will most likely produce results that can increase your happiness. Not the other way round.

So, how can we develop our ability to experience joy? I assert that sensuality is the quickest way to experiencing joy. Joy is not a cerebral thing; it is an experience in our bodies and “beingness”. The experience of joy is a result of being fully present. Being fully present means being in the NOW, not multitasking or multithinking. Which we women have thousands of years of experience to tend to do just because we have to…

It is an interesting paradox that while we multitask, we overload our senses with stimuli. This does not make us more sensual or sensitive but, in fact, desensitizes us. Overstimulated life cuts us off from our senses, and depletes our sense of fulfilled life, because we are not fully present in anything.

Being present is a result of focus and mindfulness – something I admit we have less and less of. A quiet mind is a luxury for us who perform our roles as both professionals and mothers. However, I assert that the quickest way to “presencing” yourself is to become fully aware of your senses and sensuality. And sensuality is a place we women know more deeply and holistically than most men.

For example, just think of the ways you want to create the perfect setting in your home, so that it’s a reflection of you and makes you feel “at home” and welcomed. We decorate to delight our senses. We cook or bake to not only to fill our stomachs but to delight our senses. We take bubble baths and enjoy pampering days at spas not only to clean ourselves but to delight our senses. We buy aromatic candles and put flowers in vases to delight our senses. We want to be wooed in romantic ways to delight all of our senses… and so on. We are good at this delighting our senses stuff, being sensual; and therefore, accessing the moment of now, and thus experiencing joyful moments.

If you are not sure whether you have lost your joy, ask yourself this question: How sensual do I feel?

If you have lost your sensuality – you have lost your inner guidance system of sensibility, too. Since in reality emotions run our decision-making, it is important to acknowledge the wisdom in them. Not to make them wrong but to embrace them. Even during PMS.

How do you regain your joy in life?

First, make a date with yourself and revisit your senses to find out how they are. Stop and smell the roses! Really! Find out what stimulates your senses – all of them. In other words, come to your senses!

You can do this. You can do this by taking a deep breath – just for a minute right before you start your engine when you sit in your car and pull out of your garage.  You can do it just for a minute by closing your eyes before you open your computer screen or smart phone. You can do this by carefully tasting one morsel of your food – or one drop of your wine – in your mouth.  Just do it slower than normal.  Stop and turn off the radio and TV and listen to the quiet in the room after your kids have gone to bed… Have you stood in wonder and smelled the air in your backyard lately? Have you been to a trail in a forest? Stopping to notice helps you be present. Presencing oneself quiets the voices of anxiety and hurriedness.

As you are being appreciated during the Women’s History Month (March) or on the International Women’s Day (March 8th), pay attention to how you appreciate yourself. One way to learn to regain the skill of appreciation of yourself can be this: begin with your body. Yes, your body no matter what shape and quantity it is. It’s yours and you are here in it. It has supported you to come to this event today and it’s fabulous!  For us women body issues are tough. Years of cultural conditioning as the object of desire, one to be looked at, assessed, and compared, our relationships with our bodies have become a war zone.  We fight them and we do not feel happy about them. It is time for us not to fight our bodies but befriend them and embrace them with gratitude.

Here is a simple process you can try out. Quietly in your mind, appreciate all the different parts of your body. Start with your toes and bottoms of your feet. When you think of it, the way how they feel, wiggle and hold you standing is quite astonishing. When you really think about the work they do for you day in and day out, they deserve to be truly thanked. Maybe you do this at your next pedicure! As a result of this conscious appreciation, there is a sense of gratitude that fills you inside. The first time I did this, I broke into tears.

When you continue the conscious appreciation process throughout your body all the way to your hair, you will come out of this exercise with a glow of gratitude and appreciation for who you are how supported you are by your very own body – all the parts and organs of it. If that is not sensual, I don’t know what is!

This exercise combined two most important ways to find happiness: Being present (and do it by being sensual) and expressing gratitude.

A third way of developing your happiness intelligence is to get curious. Because we’ve learned to take critical thinking more seriously than childish curiosity, being curious without judgment can take some practice. As adults we tend to believe everything we think and often we think we are right about stuff and that we know how things should be.

Get curious about yourself. Rather than judge your body or beat yourself up for not being perfect, get curious about what is going on, what does your body want to tell you, what is there to learn from the mistake or misjudgment you have a hard time forgiving yourself for.

Curiosity is a powerful tool to feeling alive and being fully engaged in life. Aliveness is what we women want, not flatness. Right? Ask more questions than try to be right. And listen deeply. Curious people expand their lives because they are continuous learners. One of the key elements of happiness is to experience novelty. Practicing curiosity helps stir up that newness and dig up some surprises. This is why my motto in life is “Live and Lead Fascinated!”. When we embody fascination, we are super-curious rather than judgmental. You cannot be judging others while being fascinate by them – or yourself for that matter.

The best leaders – whether women or men – ask a lot of questions. It’s part of their leadership intelligence.  It is also the clue in social intelligence. “Being fascinated” brings more lightness and joy to life because it helps your relationships.

The happiness research has shown that one of the most important factors in increasing satisfaction in our lives is our social relationships. Belonging to a social club or some social group that gathers regularly at least once a month impacts our happiness as much as doubling our salaries.  Because we women already have a natural bent towards nurturing our relationships, this is easy! When I moved to a new town, I invited all women I met in the first few months to my house for a monthly “Sip and Chat” to create a new local network which helped me feel more grounded and at home in a new environment.

The way to increase our satisfaction in our relationships is to develop our judgment-free curiosity by asking more open-ended questions and listening without criticizing. This also curbs a lot of gossip.

So, to conclude, the three golden strategies to revitalizing happiness in your daily life:

  1. Live in the Now by “coming to your senses”,
  2. Apply appreciation,
  3. Practice curiosity.

Try these – they are free! This is not only a sensible way to live but it also helps your health and happiness!

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