I got the kindest email from a reader after I wrote about trying to come up with a list of things that bring me joy, and can I just say how surprised I am that my inbox wasn’t flooded with, “Seriously? Gross.”
You most certainly do NOT come here to hear me talk about self-help nonsense like that. If you wanted to endure any of that shit you’d just follow your Aunt Donna on Facebook. She lives in Santa Fe and makes her own wind chimes when she isn’t meditating in the nude on a giant rock in her backyard.
Listen. I’m not going to go skipping through any fields in my bare feet and suddenly start crafting headbands out of wildflowers. But even if I did I’d pause every few feet to sing a song about my butt. I promise.
You know what I will do, though? Post a picture of a flickering candle. It’s a total fucking metaphor.
So much of what this reader said resonated with me, mostly about the hard work required to create a new mindset. ATTACK OF A GROSS WORD. Sorry. I know. Authors of self-help books are legally obligated to use that word in every chapter. But what can I say? I’m trying to create a new mindset. I’m tired of being a slave to my anxiety, and instead of just complaining again and again and again that I hate feeling anxious I decided to do something about it. The first step was realizing that I’ve become disengaged from joyous activities. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that I’ve avoided joyous activities because I could better use that time getting things in order.
I recently read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown and I will say here in front of all of you that it will have totally transformed my life once I fully absorb and practice what she’s researched. I highlighted a paragraph on almost every page, and this one in particular speaks to why I have for so long eschewed free time:
In today’s culture—where our self-worth is tied to our net worth, and we base our worthiness on our level of productivity—spending time doing purposeless actives is rare. In fact, for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen.
We’ve got so much to do and so little time that the idea of spending time doing anything unrelated to the to-do list actually creates stress. We convince ourselves that playing is a waste of precious time.
Oh, hello, Brené. What are you doing inside my brain and how did you get here?
Here are just a few of the hundreds of passages I highlighted:
The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us or walking all over us. This research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.
Yeah. I had to set down the book, get up and walk around the room after that paragraph. Close friends of mine will be all, is Brené Brown totally fucking with Heather? Did she steal a copy of her therapist’s notes?
Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.
She broke into my therapist’s office and wired the room, obviously.
The problem is that when we don’t care at all what people think and we’re immune to hurt, we’re also ineffective at connecting. Courage is telling our story, not being immune to criticism. Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.
People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis” but it’s not. It’s an unraveling—a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
This reader who emailed me shared with me the list that she had come up with of things that keep her grounded, and even though she and I do not know each other a few bullet points were exactly the same. Like, word for word. So I thought I’d go ahead and share with you my list in case you’d like to replicate this activity for yourself and want to compare notes. Before I do, you might read it and think, that’s it? She could have written down anything, like zip lining through the Amazon or snorkeling with talking dolphins. Dream bigger, ARMSTRONG.
But that’s just it. This isn’t about dreaming. This isn’t a bucket list. It’s a collection of small things that I can do frequently to add some much needed levity to my everyday life:
1. Laughing with my kids
2. Listening to and sharing new music
3. Visiting new places
4. Photographing new places
5. Catching up with friends in person
6. A great meal with friends
7. Warm weather, loud music with the windows rolled down in my car
8. Long phone calls with my mother
What brings you joy?