Not long ago at work I was Very Busy.
But Not Very Happy.
I was waking up bleary-eyed and arriving at work before 5 am, pushing through a whirlwind of a day that continued well into the evening. Outside of work, I was drowning in the deluge of demands of parenting and some semblance of housekeeping – all of that daily life maintenance that threatened to tumble out from under me, like the dustballs of dog hair that were… um… tumbling out from under me all around the house.
I justified my motto, Just Get Through It, with the evidence that there was Just So Much To Do.
I was operating in a State of Crazy.
In an effort to be more time-efficient, I stopped doing things that didn’t seem absolutely necessary, frivolous really… the occasional workout, the occasional dinner with friends, the book I occasionally wanted to read.
Those occasions could go, I figured.
What kind of a life did that leave me?
On the surface, a productive one. But in reality, not a very pleasant one.
It made me kinda cranky, actually.
I suffered from a bad case of Frowny Work Face.
I had lost the little things I loved. And I didn’t know what to do about it.
I couldn’t make big changes or broad plans until I figured out what would come next.
So I stayed. Stuck.
That’s when a life-coach friend asked, “What would happen if you just added more joy to your life?”
And I replied, in my typical (snarky, argumentative) way, “Will Joy pay the bills? Will Joy get my kids through college?”
Who is this Joy?
She seemed an extra character, merely an add-on for when there was more time, more energy, and more space.
I gave some thought as to what Joy would look like which allowed me to explore the difference between Being Happy vs. Being Not UN-Happy.
(Note: They are NOT the same thing).
I realized that going through life just trying to Get Through It gives you a grimace. And maybe I needed to make time for Joy after all.
Most people think they can only find Joy by making massive change – quitting that job, leaving a relationship, chucking it all, and starting all over again.
But a full 180 is both overwhelming and unnecessary. Instead, I worked in increments, determining the small things that make me happy and finding little pockets of time to do those things.
Every change starts with a single step.
Did it solve ALL my problems? Like, did it do the laundry for me and get me an easier schedule at work?
Did it make me happier?
The Outcome was Optimism, something I desperately needed at that time.
Optimism fueled my Courage and eventually, I did make those big changes, the ones that seemed overwhelming at the time.
Because I learned I Have to Have My Happy.
So what about you?
No matter how busy or Overwhelmed and Under-enthused or Fatigued and Frustrated you are, there are simple ways to Jump-Start Joy in your life and Harness Your Happy:
#1: Identify What Makes You Happy – Maybe it’s been so long that you’ve forgotten what you like to do. Start with a list. Make the items simple and doable (“Move to Tahiti and live the rest of my life on the beach” should not be on this list). For me, this included spending time hiking, reading a good book, playing with my dog, eating quality chocolate, and having the occasional cocktail and conversation with a good friend. What’s on your list?
#2: Ignite the Senses – Get grounded. Literally, walk around your yard or a local park barefoot (this is where the snarky me will tell you to watch where you step). Choose tasks with a tangible component – biking, cooking, gardening, knitting, journaling. Look, listen, smell, taste, touch. Your senses give you the sense that you are alive, that feeling you lost somewhere in your lengthy To-Do list.
#3: Start in Small Increments – Finding time for Joy is hard when you have so much else to do. Start with 10 or 15 minutes twice a week. How will you spend it? Maybe you can’t finish that book but you can read a chapter. Maybe you can’t meditate or journal or paint for an hour each day, but you can start. As you get comfortable with the benefit of this time, add more.
#4: Schedule It – Once you’ve identified what makes you happy, block out the time on your calendar like you would for any other obligation. Don’t let it slide because you can. Commit to it because you can.
#5: Be Single-Minded – Avoid the multi-task. An event that brings you Joy shouldn’t be combined with other obligations. I learned that I LOVE going to the movies. Why? Sure, for the entertainment itself but also because it’s the one venue where I cannot multi-task – no phone use or conversations while I’m watching. The mere act of watching a movie and getting absorbed in the storyline is restorative for me and it’s something I now try to do once a month. If Joy comes with sipping a hot cup of coffee, don’t simultaneously scroll through your social feed or answer emails. Don’t take work calls while you walk. Give your Happy your whole attention.
There are many ways to add Joy to your life (this is where you tag a friend named Joy and thank her for being part of your life) and all begins with the simple question: “What would make me happy today?”
It’s your story. Make it happy!
Valerie Gordon is a former award-winning television producer and the founder of The Storytelling Strategist. She speaks at conferences and works with corporations to help high achievers use the power of story to create sustainable success and meaningful next chapters. Check out her book, “Fire Your Narrator! A Storyteller’s Guide to Getting Out of Your Head and Into Your Life.”