‘Blue Monday’ came and went earlier this week. The term dates back to 2005 when Dr. Cliff Arnall, a South Wales lecturer, called out the third Monday of January as the worst day of the year. His reasoning? The realisation that the holidays are well and truly over, the apparent debt hangover from holiday spend, and the fact that most people have broken New Year’s Resolutions by this point. The rain pissing down in London on the day wouldn’t have helped. So far, so depressing.
All of this heaviness made me think of something I often suggest to clients: The benefits of ‘chasing joy.’ So often, people assume the sole focus of therapy is ‘fixing things’ that aren’t working. Concentrating on negative emotions and processing these to affect healing and change. While there is certainly an element of truth to this (no one said therapy was all fun and games), I like to point out that we need to look at the other side of the coin as well: What brings incremental happiness. Specifically, what do we like doing for no other sake than pure enjoyment? To be clear, this is something that may energise or relax us, or just make us feel more connected in our relationships or environment. But the crucial caveat is the activity is only for cultivating joy, not as part of some ‘self improvement’ crusade, or because we feel like we ‘should’ be adding a new layer of x-y-z to our lives.
For some clients, it works best to have a weekly ‘date’ to pursue such activities. Others prefer to have a few minutes or half-hour every day. Whatever you can fit in is a start. Because the more our focus and attention is on finding joy, the more we somewhat unsurprisingly start to see it show up in our lives.
For me, I realised over the holidays that I very rarely read fiction any more. Anyone who knows me knows I am a voracious reader, and I do love keeping up on all the science and research surrounding mental health. I have a towering pile of what I affectionately call my ‘psych porn’ on my desk and another next to my bed. I love the stuff. And yet, this type of reading always has a little bit of an agenda in the back of my mind – how I may incorporate the new thinking into my work. It is never for pure fun and relaxation. So I picked up a novel on the plane home for Christmas. And loved lazing with it either in the jet-lagged wee hours of the morning or during an afternoon snooze on the sofa. And then I moved on to another…and now another. A well crafted sentence, a quirky-but-lovable character, an author’s attention to subtle detail….these things make me, well, happy. They bring me joy. That’s me. Others have shared with me joyful pastimes as diverse as drawing or painting; cooking or crocheting; gardening or cold water swimming (Seriously?! Apparently so…). It doesn’t matter what the activity is, merely how it makes you feel. Joyful, hopefully.
Give yourself the gift of time, sit back and enjoy.