Most of us like to know what’s going on in the world, which is why a lot of us begin our mornings by watching or reading the news over a cup of coffee before we jump into our workday. Maybe we’ll quickly scroll through some news feeds again during our lunch hour or catch a glimpse of a headline before we power down for the night. Until recently, I was one of those people. That is, until I began to take notice of how it was effecting me.
I don’t know about you, but ever since the beginning of the pandemic it feels like all I’ve been exposed to, if not bombarded by, is story after story of fear, panic, and confusion inducing headlines that seem only to breed division, contempt, and hatred. It was only a matter of time before I began to wonder just how and why it was I felt so unhappy all the time.
In an effort to get to the root of what I was feeling, why I was feeling it, and how best to reset, I did the first, most obvious thing I could think of and censored the news. Instead of exposing myself to negative content as soon as I opened my eyes every morning and once again before closing them night after night, I turned it all off.
“Rachel! How dare you! How can you walk around so oblivious and ignorant to all that is going on in the world?! Especially now when it’s so important?!” Simple. Because if I didn’t, I’d be walking around oblivious and ignorant to my individual needs as a human being, which is arguably more important. It’s a controversial statement about a controversial decision, but I’m a controversial person and I feel pretty damn good about it.
After eliminating the news, social media was the next thing that found itself on my chopping block. I don’t really feel the need to elaborate on the toxicity of that one as it seems fairly obvious, but the more devices I got off of, the more in touch I became with other contributing factors in my life that were weighing me down instead of lifting me up. I stopped watching certain television shows and/or movies (goodbye Dateline!), I opted out of relationships and/or conversations that felt contentious, I even curbed my sugar intake. All of these, things that started to tip my scales until at last they were at least even.
Then, last week, in an effort to journal before ultimately getting pulled into another project I was less psyched about, I scribbled down the word “happiness.” It was something I intended on coming back to in effort to understand both what that meant and looked like to me, in hopes it might make it easier to obtain. But, when I revisited the entry a few days later, something rather unexpected happened.
I’d woken up from a night of dreaming about my Grandmother and dog, Murphy - both of whom died within a couple weeks of each other back in 2020. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t exactly excited for the day rather, dreading another one without them and mourning all that had passed. The familiar beginnings of an unwelcome pattern started to take shape, and just when I thought I knew where my day was headed I opened up my journal to that word - “happiness.”
Suddenly, it looked foreign to me. It held no meaning at all. It just sat there, looking at me like a stranger. I stared back, waiting for some kind of direction to take my pen until finally a different word came to mind and managed to get the ballpoint rolling instead - “joy.” It was the exact opposite of what I was feeling in that moment so, instead of writing about some philosophical insight, I began jotting down the first things that came to mind that I associated with the word. Essentially, I brainstormed “joy” and turned out a pretty extensive list of random, simple things I knew to consistently bring me the feeling. Things like; the warmth of the sun, vacuuming, talking to my mom, straight lines, art supply stores, and recycling.
By the end of my brainstorming session, I couldn’t help but notice how much my mood had changed since I’d sat down to write. I felt…happy! With somewhat of a road map then, I could see a clear path to my own happiness and obtaining it wasn’t as challenging or as difficult as I suspected it might be. In fact, it seemed rather easy and entirely within my control. All I had to do was eliminate the bad influences and switch them out with good ones instead. Every day was an opportunity to review my list and make a concerted effort to engage in at least one of the items on it, actively focusing on the fact it was something that truly brought me joy.
It wasn’t long before this routine set off a chain reaction. By focusing on the positive and taking time to appreciate moments I often took for granted, I became living proof of the law of attraction. The more happy I felt, the more action I took towards that happiness, and the more uplifting things flooded in; I started working out, trying new recipes and eating better, going out and meeting new people, painting… My cup quickly became so full that whenever something bad did enter my psyche, I was able to either ignore it or quickly snuff it out by engaging in an item from my list.
Our current climate has made mental health care more of a priority than it’s ever been. Unfortunately, the stigma behind it hasn’t much changed, and with certain mandates and regulations creating more isolation and separation, the problem persists and at a highly intensified rate. If there’s a small opportunity to pass along a practice I found useful, I want to seize it by sharing what has privately worked for me. So, if you’re one of the many feeling discouraged, isolated, hopeless, confused, scared, etc., I hope you’ll give this exercise a try and that you find it as effective and as uplifting as I ultimately have.
The Pursuit of Happiness Exercise
This exercise is best to do either first thing in the morning or at the onset of dread.
Do it as often as needed, continuing to add to your list or creating new ones.
What you'll need
timer, pen, journal or pad of paper
1. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
2. Jot down anything you associate with the word “joy.” Anything at all, and don’t judge it!
3. When the timer is up, review your list (or keep brainstorming if you feel like you’re in the zone).
4. Pick three things from the list you can implement into your day and make it a priority to engage in them.
5. Repeat this process as often as necessary, adding to your list as you notice things that uplift you.
Pay attention to what might be bringing you down and extract those things from your life as you see fit for as long as you feel necessary.
Other things to try:
- Take a break from social media.
- Read a book instead of watching a TV show.
- Take a bath or pamper yourself in the shower with a coffee body scrub or eucalyptus steam
- Go for a morning walk while having your cup of coffee.
- Go for an evening walk while having your cup of tea.
- Meditate or stretch (if you’re like me and loathe meditating let me let you in on a little secret: you know how hiking is just walking? Meditating is just stretching).
- Try out a new recipe while listening to jazz music.
- Call a friend and have a conversation about anything other than the pandemic or politics.
- Listen to music in your headphones with the lights off (we suggest Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the moon).