Friday, May 7, 2021

Finding Joy During Tough Times

Savoring beauty will help you feel happy!
According to research, the Covid-19 pandemic sharply increased the number of people who are self-reporting their loneliness, sadness, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction and other difficulties.  Even as businesses begin to open, and many people are feeling more optimistic than they have in a year, millions of other people are still feeling overwhelmed after spending more time alone than ever before.  An unknown number of people spent much of the past year with family members who were abusive, angry or depressed.  After months of dealing with this situation, the stress had a damaging effect. Job losses, financial concerns, and the death or illness of loved ones also contributed to the pain many people have experienced.

How can we remain resilient when we feel as though there is no hope for a brighter future? How can we find joy when the evening news is full of depressing stories?  How can we find some peace and serenity in turbulent times, when we may feel helpless, with no way out? 

Give Yourself Permission to Feel Happiness in Dark Times

Decades ago, when my husband and I stayed for a short time in a very poor community in Mexico early in our marriage, we noticed that the people around us were singing, laughing, eating communal meals, and enjoying their lives, despite the fact that they lived in small homes with dirt floors and no plumbing or electricity.  We marveled that they could be so happy, even though most of them would never significantly improve their standard of living.  They were not waiting until some special event occurred to make them happy.  They gave themselves permission to be happy now.

Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, my husband and I found we enjoyed sitting on our patio, barbecuing our dinner, watching the birds and chatting with a few neighbors who were also enjoying time outdoors.  Our evenings became more peaceful.  Although we were no longer going out to eat, or seeing movies in theaters, or enjoying other forms of entertainment, we found joy in just a simple meal and some quiet time together.  We gave ourselves permission to be happy, no matter how long the virus lasted.

It is important you give yourself permission to be happy, too, despite what is going on around you.  Find simple activities which bring you joy, and allow yourself to indulge in them.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

You may know people who have a lavish beach house where they are quarantining, or friends who are home-schooling their children with the aid of a live-in nanny.  You may have friends who never lost their job during the pandemic, managed to stay healthy, and seemed to sail through the year unscathed.

It is so easy to compare yourself to other people and feel as though your life is not as good.  Comparing yourself to others is likely to only make you unhappy.  If you want to compare yourself to others, focus on how fortunate you are.  Do you have a comfortable place to live, compared to people who became homeless during this pandemic?  Do you have plenty of food and toilet paper?  Do you have someone you care about who is in quarantine with you, or someone you can call and talk to regularly?  Do you have things you enjoy doing at home such as working in your garden, reading, knitting, writing or painting?  Take advantage of having all the time you now have to finish your projects and nurture yourself.

Read Books Which Uplift You

You can learn to be happier by carefully choosing your reading material.  Many people love Reader's Digest, because of their cute jokes and uplifting stories.  Some uplifting, encouraging books which you may find helpful are listed below: (Ad)

The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

10% Happier by Dan Harris

Practicing Mindfulness by Matthew Sockolov

Reading daily meditations or religious books may also bring you peace and comfort.  Take the time to really contemplate them.

Play Your Favorite Music

People enjoy a wide variety of music choices, but nearly everyone has some type of music which brings them joy, whether it is a symphony, Reggae, rock 'n roll, or gospel music.  Personally, I love to ask "Alexa" on my Echo Dot to play spa music. (Ad)  It is so relaxing and I have noticed that my blood pressure is even lower after listening to it.  On the other hand, my daughter, who has three young children, often tells Alexa to play songs her children enjoy and love to dance to.  It is a fun way to get them moving, and she dances right along with them.  Music seems to touch us all in a way which is hard to explain, but frequently stirs our emotions.

Connect with Others

Even if you are living alone, it does not mean you have to feel alone.  Reach out to others.  Drop notes in the mail to old friends.  Don't wait for your annual Christmas card to send them a letter.  Send emails, too.  Pick up the phone and call someone.  Participate in classes and reunions on Zoom.  Have a virtual cocktail party with other friends, using Zoom to connect you all. The more you connect with other people, the better you will feel.  

According to a Harvard Study on Adult Development, "Good relationships keep us happier and healthier."  They claim that a sense of joy will reduce corrosive forces, like inflammation, which can be very damaging to our body.  In other words, nurturing our friendships also nurtures our body.

Get Exercise and Breath Deeply

Being physically active can also improve our mood and release feel-good chemicals.  You can try yoga, which includes deep breathing exercises.  Go for a walk in nature, go swimming, or participate in other activities you enjoy, either alone or as a family.  Make sure you get your heart rate up occasionally while you exercise, and take a few deep breaths every few minutes. Don't forget to stop at times to savor the beauty around you.  In other words, "take the time to smell the roses."  While you're at it, listen to the birds and enjoy the view.  It will increase your happiness even more.

Essentially, we are all going to experience tough times during our lives.  It may be because of a disease like Covid, loneliness, illness, death in our family, or a financial setback.  Regardless of the reason, we can choose to do something to change the way we feel.  We can find a way to improve our mood, ease our anxiety, and give ourselves permission to experience joy again!

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