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Day 19: How can you find joy?

November 2, 2023

I “searched this up” today.

Side note…

“Search up”. Does anyone else have kids using this phrase? For some reason I’m not bothered by “Googling” something but “searching up” annoys me. “Search up” is not a thing. Anyway, I’ll have to make my peace with that alongside both my children turning H (aitch) into “Haich” – another pet peeve.

These are probably both good examples of how I “make misery” out of things – definitely not the path to joy!

Anyway, back to the point.

I Googled “How to experience joy” today – I’m not sure why I haven’t thought to do this sooner but there you go – and here is the list of activities recommended by Harvard Medical School.

  • Perform regular aerobic physical activity. They talk about physical activity as “releasing a bubble bath of neurotransmitters” – a nice way to think about it.
  • Dedicate yourself to others, e.g. by volunteering.
  • Connect with your spiritual side – so we connect to something beyond ourselves, and in so doing cultivate gratitude, compassion, and peace.
  • Discover something new – as we’re hard wired to seek novelty and this can refocus our energy.
  • Give yourself permission to take a few moments of pleasure, especially when you are feeling low.
  • Pay attention to the good – effectively a gratitude practice
  • Limit negativity – this is about limiting exposure to negative people and things but also limiting the amount of negativity we put out e.g. by gossiping etc.
  • Focus on meaning not money.
  • Ask your doctor about whether your medications can affect your ability to experience pleasure, especially if you are taking antidepressants.

The Practical implications

Some of the items in that list are self explanatory and I’ve written about them in this blog series before but there are other items in the list that require further exploration. I’ve replicated the list and added my thoughts and experiences about each one.

  • Perform regular aerobic physical activity.
    • As I wrote about yesterday, I cannot recommend exercise highly enough as a booster to mood. I don’t always do aerobic exercise because, at my age, I have to do strength training in order to protect my bone health and manage my risk of diabetes (more muscle = better insulin sensitivity). However, I’m not sure exercise – aerobic or otherwise – necessarily sparks joy. Instead, I’d say the absence of exercise (or, at the very least, moment) leads to poor mental health, which blocks joy.
  • Dedicate yourself to others.
    • This is another interesting one. In my work, I’m often called upon to help women who feel they are “people pleasers” and that this trait is costing them their self esteem and robbing them of their voice in relationships. So dedicating yourself to others is one we have to think about – this isn’t about sacrificing yourself in service of others. It’s about devoting energy to people whose lives will be improved by the help you offer. Although I’ve felt called to volunteer on more than one occasion, I still haven’t done it. I suspect it’s something I’d find challenging because I tend to live my life in a little bubble of comfort, even turning away from watching the news so I don’t encounter suffering that I’m not able to help alleviate. So probably something here worth exploring…
  • Connect with your spiritual side.
    • I’m doing this through a breath work membership, meditation and a series of books on the subject to help me understand what my “spiritual side” even is. Again, probably more to say on this in future blogs.
  • Discover something new.
    • For me, this takes the form of learning. I absolutely adore learning! I hate studying but I love learning. New books, new subjects, new information…these definitely light up my brain and bring my joy. For others, I guess it might be new places, new experiences, new people etc. I find these stressful and get slightly anxious. I guess we each have to determine what new thing will put us in the place where we can experience joy.
  • Give yourself permission to take a few moments of pleasure, especially when you are feeling low.
    • I’m not sure about this one. I think we have to be careful with pleasure as a source of joy. Food, alcohol, sex, social media, shopping…they can all bring pleasure, but they can also bring misery when the hijack the dopamine pathways of our brains and we find ourselves engaging in these supposed “pleasurable” activities but making ourselves miserable in the process. For me, pleasure as a source of joy is a delicate balancing act and I’m not sure I’m always able to keep my balance.
  • Pay attention to the good.
    • I’ve written about this a few times and it definitely helps. One particular place I notice it helps is when my brain automatically “rehearses tragedy”. This is something I learned from Brené Brown. Rehearsing tragedy is when our brains play out our worst nightmares. This often happens when we’re actually living a joyful moment – the example Brown shares is when she was in the car with her family and they were all singing and she felt such deep joy and connection and then her brain instantly played a scene of them crashing and her family being killed. My brain does that sort of thing too. All the time. Now I instantly bring my attention to the moment, pay attention to how wonderful it is and add it to my list of things to be grateful for. That feels a lot better than the alternative!
  • Conversely, limit negativity.
    • This is one of the reasons I don’t watch the news, but I wonder whether joy can be found in navigating the ‘negative’ in ways that bring light. One thing at a time though…
  • Focus your efforts on what brings meaning to your life (and don’t focus on money).
    • Not much more to say about this one, except to say that some of the most joyful people I’ve ever met have often had the least materials wealth. That said, stressing about money is, for me, a barrier to joyful living. I guess this is another area to work on.
  • Ask your doctor about whether your medications can affect your ability to experience pleasure, especially if you are taking antidepressants.
    • I can’t comment on this one as I’m not currently taking any medication. Oh, with the exception of HRT – and I definitely had more depressive symptoms without it!

Which of these do you think works / would work best for you?

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