At my mother's funeral, family and friends took turns telling their memories of her. They shared stories that portrayed who my mom was and what was special about her. No one shared a memory of how she paid her bills on time, submitted taxes every year, kept her house clean or took her dogs for their yearly shots. The things that made her a responsible, reliable person are not the things that mattered to people; they did not make up the essence of my mom.
They shared stories of sneaking out of the house as a teenager, creating salads out of dandelion weeds during her “health” kick and painting or hiking with her. They shared the joyful, loving memories that were unique to my mom.
If people don’t ultimately remember our daily tasks and responsibilities, if those chores do not make us who we are, then why do we focus so much of our lives on them? We make “to-do” lists, rush through eating our lunches so we can run errands on our break, nag our families about cleaning and generally expend about 95% of our energies on draining, responsible, soul sucking tasks.
Our joys, our creativity, our sense of humor, our hobbies, the people we call friends make up our individuality. The things that bring us joy make us come alive. Without fun we become like robots, automatons, shells of people who run through their days on autopilot. Our friends and family will not remember how many times we vacuumed the rug or how many loads of laundry we did but they will remember the times we spent the afternoon painting with our kids, laughing until we cried with our friends or stayed up late telling ghost stories by the fire.
Knowing that our joys make us who we are, here are four ways to incorporate more joy into our lives:
1. Spend some time thinking about what makes you joyful. Write down as many things as you can. List them out and don’t worry about what order they come to mind or whether it is something silly. No one is going to edit your list; no one is going to critique your joy. Everyone has different likes, things that make them happy. We often push those things to the back of our minds and forget what we personally enjoy. After having kids and always thinking about what their favorite birthday dinner would be or their favorite hobby for getting birthday presents, I found myself forgetting what my own favorite meal was. Take some time to really think about it and write down any and all of the things that bring you joy. Keep your list handy at all times for reference.
2. When making your “to-do” list, be sure to write down some fun things at the top of your list. Always include at least one thing from your joy list. Schedule fun tasks just like your chores. If you have a really long to do list, write down several fun tasks. Try to keep a balance of joyful and required tasks. Don’t have a list of 20 things you must do and only one thing you want to do. It doesn’t have to be some great big, time consuming or expensive thing. You could list that you want to stop and admire the flowers at the grocery store. You could take a 5 minute break from your work tasks to flip through a fun magazine while sipping some tea. You could call and talk to a friend for 10 minutes on the phone. The simple things can still be fun.
3. Block out time each day where you won’t do any work, no thinking about work, talking about work or doing work. This blocked off time is only for fun. Start with small increments of blocked off time. Maybe 10 minutes a day the first week. Gradually build up until this feels more comfortable for you. We tend to feel so guilty if we are just having fun and not doing what we think has to get done. The purpose is to feel more joy, not to stress yourself out, feel guilty or berate yourself for being a slacker. When you realize the benefits that come from blocking out fun for a set period of time, you will want to do it for longer. I wish I could say block the whole day but most of us do not have the time for that luxury. Maybe you could eventually assimilate yourself enough to pick a day a month devoted solely to fun. Wouldn’t that be great?
4. Spend some time being still and quiet. Turn off the TV or the iPod, step away from the computer. Allow yourself to just be. Observe your thoughts but don’t invest in them. Notice that you are thinking, but don’t believe anything you say to yourself. You may find it difficult to be quiet and still. We are so used to filling up our time with noise and activity that we can feel anxious just being. Learning to just be with ourselves allows us the freedom to explore our minds, and our likes. We can use our imaginations and think about fun things. We can be still with ourselves, understand our internal dialogue, note what we say to ourselves but not be affected by our thoughts and eventually learn to think things that bring us joy.
Incorporating more joy into our lives requires a switch in our mindsets. We need to plan for and think about fun FIRST. We need to prioritize our joy. Fun should be our first thought, our first planned “task” and an important part of our day. Every day.