Releasing Into Play And Joy

Help! Your inner child is screaming for you to come and get him or her. What are you waiting for? You're too busy to relax -- yes, I've heard that one many times. But don't wait for one of life's wake-up calls to remind you to live. It's a now or never thing. You don't want to look back a decade from now and say "I regret not doing more of..." Taking care of yourself does not make you selfish.  You learned this somewhere -- and it's sucking the life force right out of you. You can un-learn this without feeling guilty or bad about yourself.

We look but do we always see? We have many responsibilities in our daily lives, but to ignore the beauty in the moment, and to deny our senses pleasure and curiosity is a cruel blow to the soul. Looking at beautiful things improves our mood -- it makes us happier. Every cell in your being screams for joy and pleasure –- the question is, can you allow yourself to have it? You eat foods that nourish your body, you exercise to maintain your strength and health, but how are you gifting your spirit? I have a particularly fond memory of working with a dying cancer patient. The purity of her words really hit home for me. In a therapy session, she wanted to meditate and as she opened her eyes, and with astonishing clarity and absolute knowing, she said “every moment is perfect.”  My client knew this truth, and yet we allow our very real and often messy problems of life interfere with our ability to “see” the truth and beauty that is abundant – everywhere – in the smallest of moments and places.

If you, like many, have your stuff, and your money, and all the trappings of this material world, but still feel a sinking emptiness -- there is a way to help yourself!  If you are mired in the problems of daily life and feel hopeless, you too can find some pleasure – if you allow yourself this gift to the soul. Wake up. How, you may ask? I’ve included some nudges towards joy in this post that may inspire you to seek more play and beauty in the moment, consciously. We are, after all, pleasure-seeking creatures. Discover what really moves you. Find and share yourself! Here's how:

  • Play - We must take time to fool around, be silly, have fun. We did this as kids why must we give this up as adults?  Find your best childhood moments and surround yourself with people who have a similar playful spirit. Using your imagination even as we get older continues to create new neural pathways. Neural connections are good, brain atrophy, not so good! Your inner child is asking you to join him or her. Play jacks, fingerpaint, make sand angels, do whatever makes your heart sing. Let go.
  • Journaling - The act of recording moments of happiness and gratitude has been shown to enhance the joy factor for many people. What are you grateful for? Recording these moments enhances the experience and makes us better able to pay attention to even more potentially happy moments in the future. Who wouldn’t want to add-in more happiness. The art of journaling about what brings us joy shows us that even simple moments -- like the sun streaming in the window on a still dewy day -- can trump what we think are the “big” ones. Capture the moments and try gratitude journaling every day.
  • Master a new skill - Frustrating as this may be, learning a new skill makes us happier in the long run. It gives us a sense of mastery and accomplishment which boosts self-esteem. Learning  something new, and the novelty of that experience excites neural pleasure pathways, increasing that feel good dopamine chemical.  Our brain loves neurotransmitters in abundance!
  • Stuff doesn’t make us happy - However investing in new experiences may. We grow tired of our material possessions and they can always be replaced with newer, shinier objects. However, a positive experience remains as good as your memory and has staying power.
  • Nurture with nature - Feel the earth, wiggle your toes, touch the air and grass beneath your feet, breathe the air, sit near water, find the sun, move against the wind, watch the movement of leaves on the trees and study the insects as they busy themselves. Be curious. It’s really quite fun and informative!
  • Discover scent and aromatherapy - Aromatics could be nature's prozac. Lavender and orange oil reduces stress responses in the nervous system because of a chemical called linalool which alters blood chemistry. I love Young Living Oils and am a Mountain Rose Herb fan. You can research for yourself the many ways that essential oils can nourish your mind and body.
  • Discover the wonders of your body - If you are of able body and have the will,  strengthen your body. I love the practice of yoga now, but do remember the first ten times or so cursing my way through asanas. Now I have not only great respect for the breathing, meditation, purifying and alignment aspects of yoga but I am kick-ass strong. Don’t mess with me! If yoga is not your thing, try kickboxing, strength training, whatever – just move and get strong. Give your body what it needs. Feel your way through it. Gift your body with the awe it deserves
  • Kindness - Practice this. Neuroscientists show that the frontal lobe lights up when we feel and express compassion and kindness. As well, Oxytocin, the hormone that flows when we hug, kiss and feel connected, calms stress and enhances immune function. Touch is an amazing way to ignite compassion in yourself and others. Check out “loving kindness” meditation where we focus on kind thoughts while meditating. Touch someone today!
  • Practice good will and give some stuff away - Give up things that you no longer need. The art of decluttering your life and giving to others feels good. Both aspects of cleansing and nurturing can be healing.
  • A Quick walk to ease tension - I always tell my clients that less can be more, and certainly better than nothing, especially when you’re in a funky little rut.  A small amount of something, such as a ten minute walk, can do wonders to lift the spirit and make it possible for joy to find you. Give up the all or nothing way of thinking -- you know -- if it's not an hour-long power walk, it doesn't count. Faulty thinking.
  • Hire a life coach - Many have success using the help and skill of an expertly trained life coach to help and support with any interference, negative self-talk, resistance. The process gives you accountability, as well as a general kick in the butt during tough times. Changing beliefs, habits and past conditioning as well as moving out of one's comfort zone is very difficult.  Partnering with a trusted friend, partner or life coach can jump-start you into taking action. Coaching can ask the tough questions that help you find your own answers and brilliance as to why joy, success and movement seems to slip through your fingers!
  • Make  joy-finding a priority - Many of my clients are “joy” deprived -- seriously joy-avoidant or feel that they don't deserve to be happy. Does this old theme or narrative sound familiar?  I often hear “well, if I don’t take things seriously, be vigilant, and toil away, then who will” I then say “that must be such a burden for you!”  Our notion that hyper-vigilance keeps the boat afloat often doesn’t ring true. Things happen whether we stand guard or not. I’m not advocating becoming irresponsible, just lighten your load. Were you raised in a "pro struggle, anti-pleasure environment?”  What do you lose if you give up suffering? Suffering is not virtuous. It's painful. Say goodbye to your family legacy of “anti joy.” You can learn to let in some light and life, and make room for happiness. The details might just be in the small joys that you encounter when you give yourself permission to see, love, feel, touch and experience. Small steps.

Watch less TV, spend more time with people who bring you joy, get more sleep, clean your house less, play more, sing, dance, write -- create your own list of joy-making activities.