People in the health and fitness industry like to tell you how to live. We really like to give advice about all sorts of things beyond the realm of exercise. Why is that? I think anyone in any part of the service industry will tell you that as soon as you embark on a career serving others, your job description expands beyond whatever your specialty is. Bartenders are therapists, hairdressers are self-esteem coaches, and so on.
So, here’s me telling you how to live again. Mostly because, like everything on this blog, I need to hear it myself.
Sometimes life gets hard. Sometimes we feel so caught up in the daily grind that we don’t know where one day stops and the next starts. It stinks, and sometimes it is a challenge to get yourself out of the funk. I love fitness, and usually it helps to improve my mood, but some days your training session feels like just another thing you have to do.
When life gets hard, often our default action is to find something that soothes us – eating a comfort food, watching TV, taking a nap. Being soothed is important and, if nothing else, it calms us enough that we can tackle the next day.
But being soothed is only part of the solution. Being soothed is passive – it’s a good tool to keep us functional, like foam-rolling or stretching, but it needs supplementation with vigorous activity.
My brilliant husband told me this the other day, when I really needed to hear it:
“What I think we both forget sometimes is that you have to train your joy as much as your arms or your crossovers. No input, no results. You have to ask yourself “does this make me happy?” Or if you’re doing something solely out of necessity, “Does this buy me time and space to do something awesome later?” Sometimes when we’re tired we think we need to wind down, to do something numbing like Toddlers & Tiaras, or beer, or games, or reading until we can’t even focus. Occasionally we have to dig deeper and find energy to do something that’s not soothing but is uplifting. We have to exercise our capacity for joy.”
(We really don’t watch as much Toddlers and Tiaras as this blog would have you believe.)
The point is this: Relaxing is great, but sometimes we need to be active in our quest for happiness. We can’t just wind down when we’re sad, sometimes we need to wind up. We need to identify those things that give us pure, unadulterated pleasure, seek them out, and be in the moment with them. It’s no good for me to go on a walk to bring myself joy if all I’m going to do is worry about the list of things I should be doing instead of walking. If relaxing, soothing activities are the foam-rolling of mental fitness, then joy-seeking is the anaerobic training. You should be so consumed in your joyful activity that you can’t think of other things. Let yourself laugh with abandon, revel in the beauty of small things, push your enjoyment threshold to its limit.
You’ll find that just like with aerobic and anaerobic training, the more joy training you do, the greater your capacity for joy will become. Starting out, lots of people can’t even manage 15 minutes of steady-state cardio. Starting out, it’s really hard to commit your full attention to being joyful – maybe it feels selfish, maybe it feels like there are more important things to be done. It isn’t and there aren’t. Like with any other form of training, start small and work up. Those folks who said you can’t help others if you can’t help yourself were right. The more we are able to feel joyful, the more joy we can spread.
‘But Laura’, you say ‘I don’t know what makes me joyful’. I struggle here too – it’s tough to know how to be happy. We often think of happiness as this big, huge goal that will only happen if the stars align and things go perfectly our way. But maybe happiness is like fitness – it doesn’t happen all at once. You need a lot of little parts working together and each little part improves at its own pace. Find the little moments that you can be truly joyful within, and go after them wholeheartedly, however brief those moments might be.
Still stuck? Here are some things that bring me joy. They may not be the same for you, but heck, it’s a start.
- Watching my tiny dog run fills my heart in a way that I never thought possible. She tears it up, and you can tell when she’s running that there’s nothing else she’d rather be doing. I love that. This isn’t her, but you get the idea.
- Going to the zoo.
- Roller skating, by myself, outside. The rush of the wind, the smells of the city, going down hills. It’s pretty great and it recharges me for derby.
- Hiking in the woods, seeing the sun stream in through breaks in the trees.
- Going to the Antiques Market and finding a really great deal.
That’s a start to my list. How about you? How can you exercise your joy?