“How do you spark joy in a joyless time?”
Someone asked me this recently. I had just joined an intimate business networking group and was sharing my current “lay of the land” which was: I’m exhausted, I’ve just recovered from COVID, I’m lonely, I miss hugs, it’s hard to find my usual spark.
That’s when the question about how I might take action to do something that would bring me joy came about. And the answer that came to mind was how much I wanted to get on a plane tomorrow, fly to Paris, and explore the city. Not the COVID version of Paris, but actual Paris—the way it used to be. “That’s what would bring me joy,” I thought to myself (and actually shared with the group).
But that’s a fantasy. And that can’t happen right now.
So, what else? What else would bring me joy?
2020 was a hard year for everyone. And it’s going to take some time for us to find what brings us joy and excitement again.
Sure, I’ve found some joy in my Zoom workout classes or my hour-long phone calls with friends.
But all in all, I can’t say too many things bring me a significant amount of joy these days. Certainly not as much joy as traveling or exploring a foreign city did in years past.
Here’s why that’s okay—and why we shouldn’t try so hard for 2021 to be this massive leap forward, and should instead take a moment to acknowledge what a difficult year we’ve all just been through.
If you feel like you’ve hit a dead end, don’t worry. Most of us feel that way
I’m writing this article because, to be honest, the piece I need to read most right now is why it’s completely okay to feel sort of hopeless and disconnected from the joys of life. (Please note, I’m Pollyanna. I’m always finding the bright side and able to turn a lemon into lemonade . . . so this is just . . . real talk.)
So much of 2020 was spent trying to cope and adjust with all the ways the world was changing that I wonder if we even allowed ourselves to take a second to breathe. It’s almost as if—despite the fact that we were all sitting alone at home day in and out—we didn’t have time (ironically) to feel how difficult things had become, how sad things were around us in all possible respects, and how uncertain things were. And without acknowledging those feelings, they ended up just being dragged along. On and on.
So instead, I’d like to ask the question: how do we take care of ourselves during what is still a very challenging time, and create a little room for us to have whatever emotional experience we’re having? What if we embrace the downs as well as the ups and sit with the discomfort and anxiety, instead of trying to fix it.
Everyone wants to set motivational New Year’s resolutions for 2021. Instead, I’m setting 2021 acceptance rituals.
At the beginning of every new year, the dominant conversation is how to “get somewhere.”
- How to set bigger, better goals
- How to break bad habits
- How to prioritize the important things
- How to achieve more this year than you did last year
- How to stay energized, inspired, motivated, etc.
But after a year like 2020, it’s hard to believe that’s what we need right now. It’s certainly not what I need.
Instead, this month I am focusing on what things I can work on accepting in my life. I want to take some time to acknowledge what a rough time this has been (for me, for my family, my friends, for everyone). I want to give myself a second to feel less-than-joyful about it, maybe even binge a pint of mint chip ice cream and have a good cry before trying to motivate myself to have my “best year ever.”
We have all become accustomed to saying we’re “fine”
When someone asks you how you’re feeling, don’t say, “I’m fine” if you’re not fine.
Instead, think of that question as a quick mental health check. How are you doing, really? What do you need? What has been on your mind? What would be helpful to talk through?
Meditation can be useful here. So can doing self-reflective exercises like journaling, tarot cards (one of my personal favorites), painting or arts and crafts. But we would all feel a lot better if we were just more honest with each other.
That means saying how we’re feeling, and not just saying, “Fine. You?”
This isn’t a call for complaints. And I truly believe in mind over matter, i.e., the best way to change your mood from bad to good is to decide that’s what you’re going to do.
That said, we should be gentle with ourselves (and others) and allow the space for a range of emotions, particularly at a time when things generally, objectively suck.
Others are likely to be more real, more vulnerable with you if you keep it real
When you hear someone else tell you they’re “fine,” do you believe them?
By being real with others, it allows them to return the favor. One of the things we can benefit from right now is true, human connection. Whether that’s a phone call, a quick FaceTime or a simple text, we have the power to let someone know we’re thinking of them and act as a (real) sounding board for them if they, too, are having a moment of exhaustion and fatigue.
So often all we need is to know someone else is there in order to feel better. And the act of providing that to someone else—a moment of giving—can actually turn your day around.
When all else fails, take a nap
Nothing is more crucial to our health—mental and physical—than sleep.
Sometimes sleeping all the time can seem like a last resort, but actually, we should move that up to the top of the list, because everything seems more manageable and less dramatic when we’re well-rested.
Taking a nap can often be the most productive thing you can do. This recent Inc. Magazine article recognizes power napping as a superpower. So that sounds like a superpower we all have and should cultivate!
Personally, I usually love starting the new year on the right foot, setting goals for myself, and writing down a bunch of “new year, new me” statements. But this year, I can feel that’s not what I need. What I need, more than anything else right now, is to just take some time to sit with how the past year felt—and I’m sure I’m not alone.
What if 2021 is about real talk, real feelings, real communication, and showing up in an authentic way, whether that’s you at your best or not. That seems like a goal worth setting.
Amy Stanton is the founder and CEO of Stanton & Company and coauthor of The Feminine Revolution.