Reclaiming Joy

Growing up does not have to be the end

Jeremy Zerby
6 min readMar 22


Red-haired girl in a pink dress swinging on a rope over a mud puddle laughing
Photo by Matheus Bertelli

I remember this time in my life when I enjoyed practically everything. There just seemed to be this endless supply of things to be happy about. It was possible to feel joy over the tiniest of things.

I was a child then.

As I grew up, and learned some of the harder lessons of life, such as the idea that people are inherently evil. Or at the very least, are capable of an infinite number of evil things. As I heard about genocides and war and diseases and the crucifixion of Jesus and the assassination of men like Martin Luther King Jr. and the passing of peers and members of my own family, that sense of joy and that ability to find joy in things began to pass.

It became harder and harder to enjoy the world around me.

yes, there was beauty. But it was always tainted with a sense of sadness. It was a contradiction that I was forced to accept. It reminds me of a line from the song The View by Modest Mouse,

If life’s not beautiful without the pain,
Well I’d just rather never ever even see beauty again.
Well as life gets longer, awful feels softer.
And it feels pretty soft to me.

As I have grown older, I have gone through other challenges that have run the risk of destroying my ability to feel joy even more.

Even though we all know better, even though we have all felt this way at one time or another, it is hard not to feel like you are the only one who has gone through this or is going through this.

But you are not.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was scrolling Mastodon. Since moving to the instance, I have connected with a lot of interesting people. Tech bros and poets. People writing about their passions or the things that they just find interesting. Not to mention the other people I met on a previous instance I was a part of.

I connected with Rajeshwari on there a short time ago, and her posts are always insightful and thought-provoking for me. She had one that I saw on Sunday night or early Monday morning that really stuck with me. This is what she said:

Screenshot of Mastodon post. Text reads “Remember, how excited you were as a child to get new toys and spend your summer holidays playing? What about now, when you have grown up? Things have changed. Ain’t they? Your equation with your happiness, contentment, and pleasure has changed. You can no longer get excited about toys or the summer holidays. These things no longer bring you an ounce of delight.”

Like her, I remember being a child and finding such wonder and excitement about summer vacation and going to the park and playing with toys, new and old. But, as I have grown, it is indeed true that I am no longer excited by toys or holidays or any of the things I was excited about as a child.

“Things have changed. Ain’t they?”

I love how that is worded. It sticks. “Things have changed. Ain’t they?”

Her post/poem ends with that idea. Things have changed and what once brought pleasure no longer does so.

And we could stop there as well. At first, that’s where I stopped too. But I kept hanging on to that open-ended question. “Ain’t they?” They have changed. Growing up changes us. We do not get excited about the same things as children as we do when we are adults. At times, it would seem, we even stop getting truly excited about anything at all.

“Things have changed. Ain’t they?”

I thought about her post for hours. Interacting with people online is weird, but I eventually responded to her and asked if I could write this piece that you are reading right now.

Because, while things have changed, I am not convinced that they have to stay changed. I am not convinced that we have to stop finding joy and pleasure in the little things. I think it is possible to find joy in toys and holidays again. Maybe as adults the toys are different. And maybe how we spend our time off has a different focus, but we can still find enjoyment in them.

One of the most common formats here at Medium, and even on the instance, seems to be that of a certain number of steps and you can make something happen. And there is nothing wrong with that. Bullet points work for some people. And especially if you are in a teaching or leading-type role, breaking something down into specific, identifiable steps can be helpful. When I was a minister, I would teach in this way and I have tried to write pieces on this blog in that format from time to time.

I have even tried to record the podcast before in such a way that I would bring it home with a three-step plan for success in whatever it was I was talking about that week.

But from a practical standpoint, that has never worked for me. Even when I teach, it just does not feel true to myself.


It is entirely possible to reclaim that sense of joy and wonder we once felt as children. And it really all comes down to a matter of perspective.

As we grow older, we all lose our sense of wonder. It is inevitable. It may not last forever, but at some point, we will lose sight of the simplicity of existence that once gave us joy.

During my days in organized religion, when I was moving toward my most conservative time, I was given a copy of John Piper’s book Desiring God. In this book, he lays out the idea of, what he calls, Christian Hedonism. In Piper’s words,

“Christian Hedonism is the conviction that God’s ultimate goal in the world (his glory) and our deepest desire (to be happy) are one and the same…”

It was this concept that, at the time, drew me out of a sort of funk I was in because of how awful I was finding humanity to be. It led later to my realization that I was contributing to the mess rather than making things any better.

After all these years, what has stuck with me is the fact that my happiness is important.

This realization is key. Your happiness and joy are important. No matter how bad things are, you have to make time for your own joy. You have to do things for yourself that will make you happy. If you believe in God, they are not going to be made most of if you are a miserable wretch.

In other words, your happiness is indispensable.

Children sitting at a table painting and laughing
Photo by Vlada Karpovich

What does that mean, though? What does it mean to seek your own joy?

It boils down to doing what makes you happy.

As adults, we have so many responsibilities. Sometimes, it feels like, too many to count. If you are a parent, it starts in the morning with getting around for work while also getting the kids ready for school. Then there are all the sports and after-school programs. There are birthday parties and sick days and just the fact that kids exist every day at all times. Plus your own work and responsibilities like laundry and dishes and making food and lawn care. You have to, in the midst of all of that, make time for yourself.

Make time to do the things you enjoy. If you have to, schedule it in and never deviate from that schedule unless it is absolutely necessary. Always make time for your hobbies.

Also, do not ever shy away from buying stuff for yourself. Treat yourself. Take yourself out for dinner or buy that new electronic device you want. Obviously do not hurt yourself in the process. But if you can do something for yourself, do it.

Find joy in things again.

As adults, it may take some effort, and it may mean rearranging our schedules and actually working that time in, but it is possible and doable.

And absolutely necessary.

You can reclaim your joy.

You just have to do it.



Jeremy Zerby

Hermeneutics, religion, pop psychology, self-help, and culture. They are all connected, and I am here to explain how.