I was sitting on a bench at Kirk Park taking in the fall colors, when a couple passed by. I watched them walk along the path toward Lake Michigan. A gale was blowing and they linked arms and bent against the wind off the water. The beach is eroded at Kirk Park, and there is a cliff where the staircase to the lake used to be. The couple stopped and I could see them huddled together, discussing whether to venture down the embankment of loose sand.
Finding Joy (in spite of the situation)
The scene was particularly beautiful. A final weekend of autumn, the trees seemingly lit from within. Showers of orange, yellow, and russet with each gust. But I was feeling dull-witted and unappreciative, even in this lush setting. (2020 has been a lousy year, after all. Winter on its inexorable way.) The couple chose to turn back, the woman a bit wobbly. And as they passed she beamed, which took me by surprise, and said to me, “Isn’t it beautiful here? Aren’t we lucky?”
I said, “Yes.” But it made me feel churlish and a bit silly. Of course she was right – we were lucky. I am lucky. Full of good health and vigor, an afternoon of hiking along Lake Michigan and climbing dunes. So, where was my joy? What has happened to the joy? And how do I get what she has? A simple appreciation for the moment in spite of an unsettled world.
A National Mental Health Crisis
In my defense, I am not the only one who is occasionally down in the dumps these days. Let’s recap: a worldwide pandemic, pandemic fatigue, an opioid epidemic, a national mental health crisis, the election, a rise in drug and alcohol sales, and tenuousness in job security and the economy. And for those of us in recovery, a disproportionate vulnerability to COVID-19. Add to that, the holidays are coming.
How then, is it possible to find joy when everything is so bleak? Well, by understanding that everything is not bleak. That we can control some aspects of our lives. And that humans have gotten through worse times before. Perhaps even coming out better in the aftermath of a difficult situation. For those in recovery, we’ve probably already done the toughest thing we will ever do.
Here are a few things to try (to bring joy) when the going gets tough:
1. Show Your True Grit
The most successful people have stamina for the long haul. This is the time to dig deep.
One characteristic emerged as the significant predictor of success…it was grit. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in day out. Not just for the week, not just for a month, but for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality. Angela Lee Duckworth, Ted Talks Education
2. Slow it Down… Breath…
When the world starts encroaching on finding joy, take a minute, slow down and reset.
I use my reset many times a day, it takes 60 seconds. You basically put together the things that are joy triggers. It could be photos of people you love, pets, quotes, landscapes, music you love, a breathing pace. In just 60 seconds, you can change your mind-set. Gratitude is the greatest antidote to stress. Arianna Huffington, The New York Times Smarter Living
3. Prayer, Meditation, Spirituality
No matter what you believe, feeling part of something larger than yourself can calm a restless soul. And prayer activates the mid-front and back portions of the brain: the parts of the brain involved in self-reflection and self-soothing. At the same time, meditation or prayer inactivates parts of the brain associated with taking action. This can play a part in stopping addictive urges and anxiety.
4. Get Professional Help
This is not the time to struggle on your own. If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, or disconnection get help from a professional. For those in recovery, or those struggling with drug or alcohol misuse, get professional help.
Anxiety and substance use disorder go hand in hand. In fact, there is a prevalence of substance use among those with anxiety disorders. Often that is because alcohol and drugs are used to ease tension. [In this]…current state of unpredictability, our normal routines have been interrupted by uncertainty and fear. But for those in recovery…alcohol and drugs are not an option for you. Rae Green, JD, LPC, CAADC, Founder Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers
5. Take Advantage of Telehealth, and Virtual Connection
There are myriad options for finding community through virtual connection. Everything from group cooking classes to individual psychiatry sessions. Interactive virtual programs are accessed using a smartphone with a downloaded APP, or a computer with a video camera connection. It may not be the same as hugging a friend with a milestone at an AA meeting, but virtual connection is connection.
6. Love a Pet or a Baby – Pure Joy
Recently, I spent a few days with my daughter and son-in-law, and their dogs. I am not a dog person per se, but there is no denying the pure happiness in watching a dog run unabashedly. And taking care of a pet can bring you outside of yourself and your problems. Human babies are the ultimate harbinger of hope.
7. Deal With/Worry About the Things You Can Actually Impact
This seems like a simple concept, but in the middle of a meltdown, the relentlessness of the pandemic or the endless election can seem like it’s your responsibility. The fact you might not be working on a vaccine or counting votes does not stop the intrusive thoughts. Try to live in the moment and compartmentalize!
8. Get Outside – Change the Scene
The grandeur of nature has saved my psyche during the pandemic. Trees still turn color in the autumn, birds build nests in the spring. And a walk in the woods or just sitting on a park bench is a reminder that life does go on. The world is bigger than our current problems. And the small victories, like climbing that difficult sand dune, are worth celebrating.
11. Minimize TV (News) Viewing
12. Plan Ahead for the Down Times
In the same way Ms Huffington tells us to re-calibrate our day with “joy triggers”, we can begin to anticipate trouble triggers. If a rainy Sunday afternoon puts you in an unsettled funk, plan a family zoom call, or bake cookies. Flood the senses, forest bathe, take that pooch for a walk, paint, write in a journal, make a playlist and sing along.
13. Be Nice to Someone
In these uncertain times, knowing what makes me happy, and helping others find happiness, seems like important work to me. We get caught up in life and forget sometimes how good we have it. Just pause, think about it, and you will discover there are an infinite number of things to be grateful for – even now. Become a student of the interests you love and tap into the joy you deserve. Rae Green, JD, LPC, CAADC, Founder Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers
Seek Joyful Opportunities and PAY ATTENTION
I know, I know, joy will not pay the bills. Gratefulness for a beautiful afternoon will not cure a worldwide blight. But my muse on that windy day has helped me to remember that family, friends, and grit will get us through this temporary maelstrom. My best friend and I have a saying. It helped me in the early days of my recovery. When we are really down, or when it seems like we cannot catch a break, we say aloud, “I’ll rally. I always do.” It reminds us that we’re tough. And that joy is just around the corner – even in our unsettled world. So, repeat after me my gritty friends:
I’ll Rally. I always do.