Stop Chasing Happiness.
All my life, people have asked me what I do to be “so happy”. One of those things is give up the pursuit of happiness, and instead focus on experiencing joy. That way, even during the most difficult times of my life, I make myself feel better. It is much easier to find moments of joy, even while grieving, than to experience happiness.
Many of these things that I do for emotional well-being I stumbled upon in childhood and simply kept doing them. I gave it serious thought, and I came up with 36 different small things that I do for my own mental health/emotional well-being. Stay tuned for my book coming out soon where I present these 36 simple things and provide the supportive research.
Finding joy. Experiencing joy is an important part of emotional well-being. When joy does not come easily, or does not come at all during difficult times, we need to cultivate it. We need to find it. We need to create it.
People often have resistance to finding joy. Excuses such as, “I’m too busy,” “I have too much homework,” “There’s no time to do what I really love,” “I don’t even KNOW what brings me joy,” and “That’s selfish. I’ve got kids who need me.”
I have also found that during times of crisis, grief, or tragedy, people feel that they do not deserve to experience joy. They think it is selfish, hedonistic, or inappropriate. However, it is during these times that we need joy the most.
Doing what brings you joy or makes your soul happy actually makes you the best version of yourself. It makes your interactions with all of those around you more loving and pleasant. It makes you a better friend, mother, wife, etc. Doing what brings you enjoyment elevates mood, and that elevated mood in turn affects your behavior and interactions with others. Think of it as your positive mood being contagious, because science demonstrates that it is! So if you still are struggling with the idea that doing what you love is selfish, think of it as one way that you can give to others by “contaminating” them with your better mood, and giving them your best self.
It is also important to remember that there is only one person in charge of your life, of your happiness, and that is YOU! You have choices, and you can choose to engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. No one else can do that for you. It is up to YOU to make the time for it.
And if improving your emotional health is not sufficient reason for you to engage in doing what makes your soul happy, remember that it also benefits your physical health. Engaging in enjoyable activities reduces stress, and we all know that reduced stress means reduced physical illness.
Being too “busy” with school, work, and/or parenthood are the main reasons I hear why people are not doing what brings them joy. One way to address this is to make an appointment with yourself. Yes, that’s right. Make an appointment with yourself. Put it in Google Calendar, or write in on the paper calendar. And then KEEP this appointment. Block out the time and write “me time.” Make a weekly appointment with yourself to do what makes your soul happy. Block out a half day if you can.
Paradoxically, the “busy” person who takes time out for joy is more energized and productive.
It is also important for “busy” people to find enjoyment EVERY day. This need not involve a lot of time, but it is important to engage in something enjoyable every day.
There will be times in your life when finding joy and doing what makes your soul happy seems impossible, or not even desirable. When the demands of a job and/or parenthood are simply too time consuming and exhausting, or when a loved one is sick or has died. It is possible to find joy, even during pain, even during exhaustion, even during crisis. During these times, you can make it a goal to seek joy in daily, mundane tasks. Sing while doing the dishes. Play loud music while cleaning the house. Focus on gratitude when feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
There will also be times that a life crisis is so heavy and sad that it paralyzes you. Even during these times, it is possible to find joy. When you are having difficulty finding joy on your darkest day, look for love. What love can you find around you? My late fiancé taught me this in 1994. A few days after he was told that there was nothing left that the doctors could do to treat his cancer and that he was going to die, he looked all around his hospital room at all of the cards, pictures, and gifts, and he said to me and my father with a big smile on his face, “There is so much love in this room.” If you are suffering due to difficulty in an important relationship, who is loving you and supporting you through it? And don’t forget to include yourself.
Finding joy and doing what makes your soul happy need not be extravagant. It can be a simple enjoyment. In fact, during a time of crisis, simple may be better. It is possible to find joy in awful situations. Sometimes, it is the only thing you can do to move through it.
1. Become aware of and attack the thoughts, or excuses, that are interfering with your ability to do what makes your soul happy. “I’m too busy,” “My kids come first,” “That’s selfish,” “I don’t deserve it.”
2. Practice positive affirmations around doing what makes your soul happy: “Doing what makes my soul happy helps me to be my best self,” “My elevated mood helps to elevate the mood of those around me,” “Doing what makes me happy improves my physical health.”
3. Make a weekly appointment with yourself and KEEP it. You are in charge of your life. It is up to you to make the time for enjoyment.
4. Find something that you can do every day for at least five minutes that you can engage in on your busiest of days.
5. Address any barriers that may interfere with following through. You may need to rearrange your schedule, arrange for child care, etc.
6. Shift your thinking to find gratitude during busy/difficult days.
7. It is important during life crises to engage in simple acts that bring comfort. Read. Laugh with a loved one. Listen to music. Write. Take a bath. Drink your favorite beverage.
8. When life feels too heavy or sad to do anything joyful, look for love. When you find it, you will experience joy. If you cannot readily find it, create it, and you will experience joy.
Finding/creating joy on a regular basis is one enJOYable way to take care of your emotional well-being and mental health. You will not only feel good in the moment while engaging in your enjoyable activity, but you are nurturing your long-term well-being.