DISCLAIMER: Though vaccines have allowed many of us to return to more normal activities, the pandemic isn’t over, and it’s still crucial that we all follow the evolving CDC guidelines to keep both ourselves and others safe.
“Perfect happiness is a beautiful sunset, the giggle of a grandchild, the first snowfall. It’s the little things that make happy moments, not the grand events. Joy comes in sips, not gulps.” ~Sharon Draper
It was a rainy, late Sunday afternoon. The sun was already going down, and it was getting dark outside.
“How are you?”
“Oh, good. Nothing special. It’s quiet,” my mom responded when I called her a couple of months ago.
“It’s quiet” had been her response for the past two years, possibly before that. My mom is retired. Since the pandemic, her life became even more “quiet” than before—fewer friends, fewer activities, less fun.
I’m not retired, but I work from home, and the same happened to me. To some degree, I let it happen.
I got used to not seeing people, not laughing, and not dancing. I got used to being alone, and it became more comfortable to stay home on Saturdays than going out for social activities. Was I developing a mild form of social anxiety? Maybe.
Two things were for certain: my social skills had atrophied, and I had forgotten how to have fun. What was joy like?
“I feel like this must be what it’s like for the elderly; when no one visits them and they don’t have many friends and activities, they sort of start dying inside.”
“That’s how I feel right now,” my mom responded.
Have you experienced that too at some point? Not feeling like doing anything and seeing people because you forgot how to connect with them and what you even enjoy doing?
“I think it’s a slippery slope. We should do something about it. We should make an effort to break the pattern and start socializing and doing activities again before we die inside,” I told my mom.
After hanging up the phone, I reflected upon what I had just said. I knew that “shoulds” wouldn’t make the situation better; I had to be proactive and do something about it. I took out a pen and a notebook and started writing an action plan.
Here are the three things I wrote down that day that have most helped me to reclaim a sense of joy in my life.
1. Do one thing on your list of “joys.”
A piece of advice that was very helpful came from a friend who lost his partner to cancer a couple of years ago, just a few months after she was diagnosed.
It was a shock to him. They had projects together, like buying a campervan, traveling around North America, and building a house off-grid. Suddenly, those plans were gone, and my friend had to learn to live alone again while coping with grief.
One thing that helped him get out of depression and slowly regain his spark for life was to make a list of things that made him happy (even just a little). Every day for the next three months, he did as many things on his list as he could.
I took that advice and created my list of fifteen “little joys.”
They’re not complicated. They include things like watching the sunset, reading a book while drinking a mocha latte in the morning, walking in nature, wearing my favorite outfit, dancing to progressive trance music in my living room, and watching funny dog videos.
Every day, I picked at least three things on my list to do that day; if I could do more, great! But I did at least three. Over a few days, this simple practice started making me feel happier.
Of course, you’ll first have to create your own list of “joys,” but once you have it, it’s a wonderful tool to bring more joy into your daily life.
2. Do one thing to trigger the “helper’s high.”
Another thing that significantly impacted my mood and energy was to do one act of kindness every day.
I had read articles about the science of altruism and happiness, and I knew that helping or being kind to others makes us happy. There’s even a specific term for it: the “helper’s high.”
I began asking myself every morning, “What’s one act of kindness I will do today?”
Since I don’t always feel creative first thing in the morning, I made a list of fifteen acts of kindness ideas that I could choose from. Like my list of “joys,” they aren’t complicated. They include writing a nice comment on someone’s Tik Tok video, posting an uplifting quote on Facebook, and complimenting someone.
Just doing this one thing, intentionally, every day made me feel more alive. But in case you don’t feel inspired to do one act of kindness a day, here’s another idea.
Another thing I started doing recently, which I learned from Tim Ferriss’s book Tools of Titans, is a ten-second loving-kindness exercise created by Chade-Meng Tan, the man behind the popular mindfulness-based emotional intelligence course for employees at Google called Search Inside Yourself.
The exercise is very simple: A few times a day, randomly choose two people you see and secretly wish for each of them to be happy. You don’t have to do or say anything—just think, “I wish you to be happy,” with a sincere intention from your heart.
I find both the ten-second loving-kindness exercise and doing one act of kindness a day therapeutic. They take our focus away from our problems and increase our sense of connection to others, even when the act of kindness is anonymous, and we don’t physically interact with the person.
3. Do one thing every day to nurture your social circle.
It took me some time to realize that my mental health was being affected by a sense of isolation. I’m an introvert and enjoy my own company. It wasn’t obvious that my desire to eat more ice cream than usual and my lack of motivation to get out of bed in the morning had something to do with spending too much time alone.
Some weeks during the height of the pandemic, I talked to no one except my clients on Zoom and the cashier at the grocery store. And the more time I spent alone, the less I wanted to see people. The idea of socializing began to feel daunting, and I chose to stay home (alone) more and more often.
But it was killing me inside. I had to break the solitude pattern before the hole I was digging and putting myself in became too deep.
I started small but did something every day to revive my social life.
One day, I commented on an acquaintance’s Facebook post. Another day, I messaged a friend on Messenger. The following week, that friend suggested we go for lunch, and I went.
Friendships must be nurtured to grow stronger and thrive; otherwise, they atrophy.
So, perhaps you can ask yourself every day, “What’s one thing I can do today to nurture and expand my social circle?”
I did a few other things to bring more joy into my life in the past few months as well, like taking on a new hobby (learning to play the djembe) and attending social events every other week. But the three actions I mentioned in this article are the ones that made the most significant difference in my well-being in the long run.
What do you do to feel alive and inspired? Share with us in the comments so we can all benefit from each other’s wisdom.