“What do you do for fun?’ The nurse asked while taking my vitals.
“People still have fun?” I (obnoxiously) replied.
The nurse let out a small chuckle and placed a thermometer in my mouth, thus putting an end to any more awkward rebuttals I might have come up with.
At the time I was managing my private therapy practice, teaching grad school and enrolled in a 200-hour yoga teacher training course. I was also healing some deep childhood wounds, navigating sobriety and - like many of us - still trying to survive a global pandemic. All of my energy was focused on finding and achieving healing. From my work to personal life: I ate, slept, drank, and breathed “the work” of healing.
I had an abundance of stress. I also had a deficit of joy - which is what the nurse had unknowingly illuminated for me. And the combination had landed me in my doctor’s office trying to determine the root cause of many physical ailments that had increased in frequency and intensity over the spring.
A number of diagnostic tests later revealed nothing - no identifiable, physical root cause to my suffering. Knowing I had done my best to ensure no medical interventions were needed, I had to take a different approach. The interaction with the nurse had stuck with me and I decided to begin an Experiment in Joy. I upended my usual morning routine and started driving to the beach every morning. I didn’t answer emails, workout, walk the dogs, pick up my to-do list until I had come home from the beach.
At first FOMO kicked in. I was worried I’d miss out on some important information that would help me heal, that if I wasn’t actively working on healing I would stop healing or lose the ground I had already gained. But I stuck with my morning beach routine and soon thereafter my physical ailments started to be less bothersome. I looked forward to waking up in the morning. I was no longer waiting for my healing to happen to feel joy. I felt joy AND my healing was happening.
The importance of joy
In relationship counseling, I often discuss with clients the importance of building a strong foundation of positive interactions between partners. This practice of enjoying each other’s company is meant to create resiliency in the relationship. Since we cannot remove the possibility of conflict or stress occurring in the relationship, instead we shift our focus to creating a strong, positive foundation from which we are able to navigate conflict in a way that feels easier, less threatening and more meaningful to the partners.
In other words, finding joy is necessary in order to weather the tough times.
The same is true for our relationship to self: Joyful moments are the underpinnings of lifelong resiliency. Joy is necessary.
You might be thinking: But joy feels out of reach for me! I don’t have that kind of time or energy!
I hear you. With the pandemic and all the stressful changes many of us have gone through and continue to go through it may feel like joy is an impossibility right now. Existing in a society that values our productivity over our quality of life, it might feel counter-intuitive to step away from your work in order to create resiliency. You might feel you are betraying your healing journey by doing something that feels good. Yes, healing is hard work and sometimes it feels downright awful. AND healing is an ongoing journey. There is no “healing destination” to rush towards. You cannot work at healing faster, longer, harder to get “there”.
Discomfort in the healing process may be inevitable, but suffering in healing does not make you better at healing.
It’s okay to put it down. It’s okay to put down the podcast, the self-help book, the conflict, the work and just do the thing that makes you happy. The podcast will still be there, healing will still be happening, and you will still be making changes.
Need some ideas of how to start incorporating joy into your routine? I’m so glad you asked! Here is a short list of ways you can start inviting joy into your routine:
Funny Podcasts - you already listen to Spotify on your way home from work? Great! Put a pause on Brene Brown and choose something else that tickles your funny bone! Here’s a list of funny podcasts for you to peruse.
Take a dance class, Zumba class or other movement class where the focus is on joy instead of calories burned.
Do something you used to love as a kid - at the start of the pandemic I bought two hula hoops. I started hooping in my backyard two to three times a week. Sometimes I would work on skills but most of the time I just enjoyed the rhythmic and joyful movement. What did you love to do as a kid? Swing on a swing set? Doodle? Water balloon fight? DO THAT!
Visit the toy store - seriously. There’s no better place to get play inspiration than a business dedicated to creating joy.
Find a new place to explore less than an hour from your home. A change of scenery, a new experience and a chance to encounter new friends can be the perfect set up for a joyful moment.
I think you’ll discover that you can find joy in many places. Quite often our challenge is allowing for joy. So here are some affirmations you can use to help encourage joy-seeking:
I am worthy of feeling joy.
The life I envision for myself includes joy.
People who experience joy are more resilient. I want to be resilient.
Seeking joy and healing are not mutually exclusive
I have felt joy in the past, I can feel joy again
Being joyful means being present.
Still struggling to find joy? That’s okay and completely normal. A therapist can help you design a healing journey that invites and incorporates joy. If you’re interested in learning more about working with me please visit my FAQs page or contact me here. You can also visit my last post to learn more about how to find the right therapist for you.