Recently, Rebecca and I were taking a walk around the neighborhood with our pup Luca. This is one of my favorite things to do when the weather cooperates. Rebecca and I get a chance to share what’s happening in our lives that the other does not directly share. We get to do long- and short-term planning together. And we swap advice regarding the various opportunities and challenges life throws at us.
With the colder side of autumn and the bone-chilling existence of winter coming, these walks will take a several months-long hiatus soon. Acknowledging this as well as just observing that life can be hard sometimes, I turned to Rebecca while we were on one of these walks and said, “I have to do some work at finding joy.” As a couple, I also suggested that we should probably do the same. Such a suggestion was not an observation of woes in our relationship; we’ve built a wonderful life together. No. Firstly, I was acknowledging that my brain is not inclined to find joy without intentional effort. And secondly, despite how wonderful our life is together, the world around us is filled with hardship and sorrow, rabbit holes and pitfalls, scary politics and a planet in a ton of trouble.
So, about my brain: As nearly everyone who knows me knows, I must deal with the tied-at-the-hip mental illnesses of Anxiety and Depression. While the Depression is in check and has been for years, Anxiety is something I must contend with often. I do a lot of worrying about my past and fearing my future. And, when a panic attack hits me, it’s usually in a public setting, making for a lot of emotional and physical pain, as well as episodes of me beating myself up and getting pretty embarrassed at how I perceive others interpreted the attack.
To keep Anxiety at bay, I habitually start working on setting my brain in a comfortable and happy spot each day. What are some of my Anxiety-fighting habits? Well, after going to workout at the gym (great for brain chemistry), I type in my journal an expression of gratitude for someone who’s made my recent past a bit — or a lot — better than it could have been (expressing gratitude can also make for a happy brain). I also spend as much of my morning talking with Rebecca. Walking around the neighborhood or not, chats with my partner in life fills me with joy. And she’s got a tremendous mindset and great advice for how to view hard times in a better light.
I don’t think I need to explain the woes of the world.
But I do think I should expound on finding joy. I already mentioned some of the habits I keep to start my day off right. But what else can I do? What might you consider doing?
My first thought is that if you have a pet, love them. They, in most cases, love us. We are, in many ways, their world. They express joy when we return home from work; we should try to mirror their happiness. Also, if you have a pup, in the morning, before heading off to work, put your nose right next to their forehead or back of their neck and take in a long breath through your nose. That scent can do wonders to calm your brain.
I’ve often shared that I find incredible joy and solace in my garden. I employ all my senses when I tend to my raised beds. I love what a complete experience gardening is.
Folks who know me also know that I see myself as a cheerleader. I love to offer public praise to people regarding their accomplishments — large and small — and lend supportive words when I see they are doing work to make the world a better place. This expression of gratitude often brings happiness to the giver and the receiver. (Some may recall that my birthday wish is usually for people to express gratitude to someone they sincerely appreciate.)
I find joy in music. In fact, I often devote Sunday evenings to simply listening to music. Not as background noise. No. My mind is focused on the beautiful sound. Sometimes, I’ll watch live performances on YouTube to immerse myself in the musical experience.
Next, I like to print off or post beautiful pictures and write about why I love the picture. I can’t tell you how calming and rewarding this type of journalling can be.
This is what I already do. But as I noted above, I think I need to do more to find joy.
What do you do to find joy? Would you suggest others do so as well?
Thanks for reading.
(For those who suffer from a mental illness, finding joy is not an easy “snap out of it” action. If it works — if it works — it’s only because they have done hard work. And, it must be said, sometimes sufferers can’t accomplish their goals. That’s not a failure. Sometimes the illness just wins.)