When You Feel Ready; Maybe Before You Feel Ready…
Invite joy and laughter back into your life.
You need this. These life elixirs get swallowed up in our grief. Your sorrow consumes them.
Grief amplifies emotion and this works for both joy and laughter. Joy becomes more poignant and laughter becomes sweeter, lasts longer, sings louder. They are waiting to be discovered again.
It requires a conscious effort. Start simply by setting the intention. Say out loud (or in your mind) that you are inviting joy back into your life. Then, take these concrete steps:
Smiling incites joy. Smile at everyone.
Once Mother Teresa was surrounded by reporters. One reporter asked her, “Mother Teresa, if you had one wish, what would it be?” Those watching on TV no doubt sighed, certain they were about to hear a platitude: I wish for world peace or an end to starvation and want.
Instead Mother Teresa said simply, “I wish people would smile at each other more.” This was brilliant. Not many of us are in a position to bring about world peace or an end to human suffering, but we can all smile more. This simple act is surprisingly efficacious, too; smiling releases the happy neurotransmitters — dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, which act like a magic pill. A person doesn’t smile back? Who cares? They probably needed to see your smile even more—it will resonate in their consciousness and serve as an invitation to smile the next time.
Joy or its close cousin, a sense of wellbeing, follows exercise, especially strenuous exercise. These health benefits work to overcome the physical aspect of grief. Whenever possible, exercise outside in nature: walking, running, swimming. Just being in nature promotes health and wellbeing.
Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said: People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them. What does this mean? Now is the time to do something you’ve always wanted to do, but for this or that reason, you haven’t done yet. You have this one life now. You know how precious it is. Ignore the cost, the inconvenience, even the recklessness. If there is something you’ve always wanted to do, go for it.
Cherish your family members and good friends. Practice every single day saying, I love you. Let them know how much you treasure their presence in your life. Throw more dinner parties for them. Too much trouble? Make it a pot luck. If you are separated by distance, write letters, send snail mail, surprise them with a phone call. Hold the people you love close.
Perhaps the best way to find joy is by doing a good deed. Take a homebound person’s dog for a walk or an elderly person to the beach. Slip concert tickets in a music lover’s mailbox. Leave a bouquet of flowers or a batch of cookies on a neighbor’s doorstep. Plant a tree in a public space—make it your new hobby, planting trees in your neighborhood. There are a million ways to practice kindness; find at least one every day.
If you can afford it, gift money to someone who is struggling financially. For no other reason than to ease their struggle. Do it anonymously. Let their joy upon receiving this gift wash over you in force.
Drop twenty-dollar bills in a homeless person’s cup. Do they “deserve” it? Probably not. Do it anyway.
Volunteering with a worthwhile charity is one of the biggest positive life changes a person can make. Charitable efforts always resonate with joy. The vast majority of volunteers happily report that their efforts resulted in receiving far more than they gave. Google local charities and as you go down this long list, see what sparks an interest. There are many purposes in life, but one of the most important is to walk each other home.
Add laughter to your life, even if you don’t feel like it, especially if you don’t feel like it. Everyone can do this: grab a family member or friend and stare at each other while “fake” laughing. Time how long before it turns into the honest to God, side-splitting hilarity for real. Catch a live comedy show or watch a favorite comedian on your streaming service. People have cured diseases with laughter; there are more health benefits to laughter than running a marathon. Again, you need this now.
Some lucky people are already immersed in the arts. They enjoy live music events, literature, theater and the visual arts. Even if you rarely visit this meaningful aspect of life, now, with this monumental change, you will find that art experiences are interesting, often cathartic, and always worthwhile. It is easy to do. Every community has various art events open to the public: live music events, art museums, poetry readings, theater, join a book club.
Even your local high school puts on plays that are often delightful. Art is one of the best ways by which joy, laughter and meaning return to life.
Inviting art, joy and laughter back into your life lifts the weight of your grief and helps shapeshifts it. These all serve as a reminder that you still have a life to live and you need to do a good job of it. Your loved one enthusiastically applauds these efforts.
In the process you begin to see that you are not so broken after all.