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No Justice, No Joy?

Dear <<First Name>>,

My mother has long observed that I “think too much.”  A friend once said that I can suck the joy out of any experience.  My husband occasionally recalls “vacation Dolly” like she was a carefree stranger we once met far from home.  

None of them are wrong.
young indian girl scowling, wearing frilly white and yellow dress.  standing outside in front of wooden structure.
Me, intense from a young age.
No doubt, I am also a friendly, positive person who loves to laugh.

It's just that my default mode is intensity.  I’ve always been like this, since I was this kid with the rockin’ hairdo who asked for file cabinets in school colors for her 12th birthday (still have them). 

If you need to anticipate every worst-case scenario, hit me up.  If you need to persist through despair, I’m your girl.  If you need to break down an overwhelming challenge into color-coded daily tasks, I got you.    

2020 is the year I’ve been preparing for my whole life.  

But if you need to mentally stay in the present and savor a moment of joy without thinking it through from every angle … well, gosh, I might not be your first call.

Can you (or someone you love) relate?  If so, some of these questions might resonate:
Smiling black woman in a yellow dress stands in a lush green garden.
  • Is everyone wired for joy? Goodness bless those of you for whom joy comes easy. For the rest of us, it can sometimes take effort, even under normal circumstances. I love joy. It’s just that my first instinct isn’t always the lightest, sunniest, most joyful response. Still, my soul (and yours) craves it.
  • Can joy and rage co-exist? Is it even okay to feel joy when there is so much injustice in the world and so much work left to do? Maybe joy will make us complacent in the face of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and other wrongs? If we feel joy, are we forsaking our urgency for change? Can we be motivated by rage and still be fueled by joy? Or do joy and rage emerge from the same place - our soul? Do joy and rage need each other? 
  • Is joy even a thing in 2020? Even if you have a lighter temperament than me, joy may be hard to find these days, between the struggles in our own lives and the sorrow in the world. Thanksgiving was different this year and the winter holidays probably will be, as well. With the unrelenting losses, burnout, and loneliness of this year, where is the joy? 
When someone accuses me of being angry, I ask them why they aren't.   Sharon Zimmerman
I feel you on all of the above.  And, nonetheless, the answer is the same to each question:  YES.  

Yes, we are all wired for joy.  
Yes, joy and rage can … scratch that … must co-exist.  
Yes, even in 2020.  

Especially in 2020, in fact.  If you are someone who feels and sees injustice, then joy is essential.  If you are burnt out, then joy is essential. If you are wired for intensity, then joy is essential.
Man of perhaps Asian descent laughing in front of colorful wall

Joy is as essential as food 

Change making is soul work.  Resilience is soul work.  Resistance is soul work.  And souls must be nourished, just as our bodies must be nourished.  Water will quench thirst and food will quench hunger.  That is why we design meals and water bottles into our days. Imagine if we did the same for joy, activating the natural responses of our souls just as we activate the natural responses of our bodies. Skipping joy is like skipping meals - it may not matter in the short term, but in the long term, we will hit the wall. 
Image of a black woman on a beach, smiling joyfully into the sun. She has sand on her face and shoulders, and her hair is flowing in the breeze. In the background, waves crash against rocks on the shore.
And, just as we need food and water most after intense workouts, we need joy most when our souls are being challenged by rage or sorrow or burnout.  Research shows that optimism feeds resilience and joy can be the optimism spark we need.  When joy feels least available is probably when we need it most.

Quick Joy Sandwich

We know how to schedule meals into our days, so we can design joy into our days in the same way.  In fact, I have been redirecting some of the time usually spent scrolling through whatever on my phone (social media sometimes provides joy, but it’s far from a sure thing, sigh) into little joy meals.  And, it’s working!

Here are a few ideas of quick joy meals.  Like making and eating a sandwich, each takes just a few minutes and does not require any help from others.
  1. Gratitude - research shows that feeling gratitude makes us more resilient.  So send a loved one, a service provider, a health care worker, or a former teacher the best kind of thank you note, the unexpected one.  I just sent a thank you text to Jen, the wonderful dog trainer helping us with Cocoa.  Just writing it gave me a lift.  
  2. Pride - studies show that feelings of pride lead to greater perseverance and resilience.  Think about the changes you are striving for in yourself and the world.  Now focus on something - anything - you feel proud of in that work.  Something you have learned, or fought for, or changed. Write out a few sentences or doodle a picture capturing what you are proud of.
White woman dancing in front of a solid yellow backdrop.
  1. Music - music has the power to change what we see in the world, scientists tell us. Play a joyful song you love, make/find a joyful song playlist on spotify, or check out Oprah’s happy song list.  Watch this classic Cab Calloway & Nicholas Brothers performance, a joyful music reaction video from Fred and Tim Smith, Tommy Kail’s brilliantly directed We Go Together finale in Grease Live!, a beautiful acapella rendition of Little Drummer Boy by Pentatonix, the soaring Chaiyya Chaiyya dancers-on-top-of-a-moving train number, or this gorgeous music video from Yo-Yo Ma.  
  2. Dance - The late Congressman John Lewis danced and once he started, he didn’t stop.  Same with former President Barack Obama, President-Elect Joe Biden, and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris in these brilliant montages by @terinewyork and @ReallyAmerican1.  And who knew the late Senator John McCain could rock the Robot Dance (with Jamie Foxx)?  We can dance
Screen shot of Congressman John Lewis dancing in an office hallway.  He is wearing business attire.
  1. Awe - scientists have found that we love experiencing and sharing awe-inspiring moments.  Awe elevates us beyond ourselves or takes us out of our own experiences.  So, enjoy that feeling of "wow!" or "awwwww" while soaking up these beautiful photos, sports moments, human stories, or cute dogs (Evelyn Parker, who helps edit this newsletter, likes to visit WeRateDogs -- it's not what it sounds like, trust me).
  2. Ritual - social scientists have found that rituals give us a sense of control.  We all have them.  Recall, revive, or start a ritual - perhaps something you do before you eat, or sleep, or shower.  It can be quick, silly, or earnest - just make it your own and do it again and again.  Since the pandemic began, I have been starting each morning by lighting incense on a silver tray and saying a short prayer.  Same 30 second routine, every morning.  It helps.
Gloria Steinem is at a podium in front of a microphone and is laughing.  She is wearing a black, full sleeve top.
  1. Laughter - Feminist Gloria Steinem was asked recently why she had such impact over the past six decades.  Her answer surprised me:  “I suspect that the people who last the longest … are people with a sense of humor.”  The importance of laughter to resilience is backed up by research, so bookmark whatever youtube videos make you cackle. 

Grab-and-Go Joy

We don’t even have to leave our couch or work station, nor enlist anyone else, to design these moments of joy into our day - they are grab-and-go joy meals.  And, there may be more joy all around us just waiting to be noticed, as described in this lovely episode of the TED Radio Hour.  

Of course, there are even heftier, more complicated joy meals out there, like exercise, nature, pets, family and friends, and helping others.  When you can carve out the time, freedom, major life decisions, and COVID safety protocols to take advantage, go for it.  But, until then, quick, uncomplicated joy meals go a long way. 

What’s on your “to-be” list?

Many people like to make to-do lists.  But what about to-be lists?  I learned about to-be lists from the amazing Wanda Holland Greene in this powerful conversation on the podcast Kelly Corrigan Wonders. She suggests being intentional and explicit about how we want to be each day, in the same way that we are intentional and explicit about our grocery list at home and our project work plan at work. The idea of writing down “be joyful” and scheduling it in is a total mental shift for me.  At first I felt corny doing it ... and yet, it's working!
Episodes of "Kelly Corrigan Wonders" that feature Wanda Holland Greene include "On Common Ground," "On Agency," "On Self-Awareness," and "On Forgiveness".

Let’s keep going

As is often the case with my writing and teaching, I explore and share what I am grappling with myself.  No doubt, I need to be more intentional about joy. 

Will these quick meals of joy solve all of our deep-rooted problems?  Absolutely not.  Will they address clinical depression or replace trained mental health professionals who have therapies and medications which can make a difference?  Absolutely not. 

Still, like lunch, these quick joy meals can quench hunger in our soul.  Joy and rage can and must co-exist, even for those wired for intensity, even in 2020.  In fact, now is exactly when joy is essential to our resilience and change efforts.   We must replenish so we can keep doing the phone banking, change making, bias noticing, knowledge growing, status quo challenging, data gathering, inclusion creating, racism fighting, self-awareness building, growth mindset activating, community organizing, policy changing, and justice seeking work that we care deeply about.  All of us need it.  Some of us, like me, might just need to be more planful about it.
Dolly doubled over, laughing.  Wearing black dress and red necklace.
To that end, on the last Sunday of every month, I’ll keep sending you the Dear Good People newsletter, filled with bite-sized, evidence-based, and actionable advice which I am trying to use myself, all written in and for today's times.  You can find past issues by clicking here or searching your inbox (or spam folder, alas) for  If you are liking what you read, please feel free to share with others (links below).  And if you didn't receive this directly in your inbox, you can sign up below.  Let me know what you think by hitting reply to this email!

In the coming weeks, I wish you joy, planned and otherwise … and sorry if my music is too loud :-).

Take care of yourself and others,

Dolly ChughDolly Chugh


This month's artwork credits from top: Sudesh and Suresh Chugh (young, scowling Dolly), @iamsade via (person in garden), Joy is Now podcast (quote), sean hall via unsplash (laughing person), @sheenalashay via (person on beach), Juan Camilo Navia on unsplash (dancing person), Office of John Lewis (John Lewis), unknown (Gloria Steinem), Kelly Corrigan and Wanda Holland Greene (Kelly Corrigan website), Peter Hsu/Fotolux (Dolly laughing).

I thank Evelyn Parker for editing, visuals, and alt text descriptions.

Ongoing gratitude to Belinda Li and Katie Sutton for help with research, design, and promotion of this newsletter.

Dolly Chugh is the Jacob B. Melnick Term Professor at the New York University Stern School of Business in the Department of Management and Organizations. She studies the psychology of good people and teaches leadership/management courses. All views are her own.

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