Something about signing up to write an article about joy felt a little disingenuous at first. After all, I’m certainly no expert. I often struggle when trying to find that spark, that elusive tide of warmth we call “happiness.” I’ve been in therapy for years, desperately searching for that thing that makes life feel less monotonous. I feel as though I’ve tried almost every coping mechanism there is to try, even medication. Case and point, I know what it feels like to be offered some arbitrary suggestion as a “Band-Aid” solution for sadness. I’m not interested in soliciting too-good-to-be-true advice. It is often the case that real change comes with difficulty— or at least a little discomfort. Keeping in mind that I am not a professional, here are some actions with tangible consequences that have helped me get closer to happiness. Maybe they can help you, too.
I know, I know, we hear it all the time. “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands!” (Yes, I had to insert a Legally Blonde quote here). I abstained from exercise as a mood solution for a long time out of stubbornness— how can running around and lifting weights actually make me less sad? I can tell you this: pretty quickly after I started working out, I realized why. Exercise completely transforms my energy levels, allowing me to feel more lively during the days and sleep more deeply and consistently at night. Additionally, it offers me something tangible to work toward. Every time I go for a run, I track my time, distance and cadence (I highly recommend the smartphone app ‘Pacer’ for this). After each week, I notice those numbers improving and I set goals for where I want them to go. During weeks when I’m struggling more with motivation, I’ll incentivize myself by making x-amount of exercise a mandatory condition for some reward; whether it’s buying something small online or baking something delicious. Truthfully, the gratifying feeling I experience after exercising is a reward in and of itself. It doesn’t have to do with the weight on the scale; I don’t exercise to fit into smaller jeans. I exercise because it’s the most powerful antidepressant I’ve ever used.
Being quarantined restricts us in many ways; however, it doesn’t have to restrict our creativity. This might be a good opportunity to search your home for some old art supplies, instruments or tools. You could even scan for clothing or furniture you want to decorate or refurbish. Now is your time to try that Bob Ross tutorial, recreate that weird TikTok coffee, crop some old shirts— hell, make a pillow fort and watch movies in it! Remind yourself of some of that resourcefulness you tapped into all the time as a kid before you had a phone and million responsibilities to kill your boredom. Recently, I have been watercoloring with my brother and mom, which has been a great opportunity for us to connect. Speaking of mom, Mother’s Day is coming up on May 10th, so why not put your art skills to use and make your mom the most bomb card of all time? Creating things, especially for others, is a rewarding experience that can help you to feel productive while also destressing. Seeing that finished product (even if it isn’t particularly good) will make the achievement tangible.
Organize your space
What they say is true— an unruly environment usually reflects some level of inner strife. Since we’re bound to be stuck at home for a while, we need to make our living environment as comfortable as possible to maximize our ability to focus. A study conducted by the Princeton University Neurological Institute reveals that a cluttered environment impedes our ability to process information, and with classes moving online for the rest of the semester, that’s the last thing we need! Moreover, the act of mindful cleaning and organizing can be deeply therapeutic. I personally enjoy either cleaning in silence or while listening to a podcast or audiobook. This is also a great opportunity to part with items you no longer need, like storing them away for now in preparation for eventual donation when it is safe to do so.
There may be some days when none of these tips prove helpful and you find yourself unable to be “productive,” and that’s okay. But when you do feel ready to work on yourself, know that you have the opportunity to break negative cycles with tangible efforts. There is no need to mystify the process of getting better, convincing ourselves that sadness is something we can think our way out of if we just try hard enough. I don’t know about you, but frankly, I don’t have the time to wait for some great revelation to strike me— I have a life to live, and I want to spend as much of it feeling as happy as I can.