It seems like most New Years resolutions are taken from people’s “should” list, and are about giving up pleasures, restricting pleasures, or working harder at something. I would like to propose an alternative for people who already aren’t able to enjoy much.
I was raised to believe that life was about working hard to provide food and shelter and other necessities for myself and my family. There was the implication that human beings, like all animals, had to struggle to survive, and everything else was secondary, if even possible. Since these beliefs were the air that I breathed as a child, I never thought to question it. That is, until I was a teenager, away from home at a creative writing school. I was sitting around in Nature, trying to think about what to write, when I noticed some squirrels. They were running around, chasing each other—up a tree, then down, then around the tree and up again. They were chattering and leaping and doing absolutely nothing to gather nuts! My mind was blown. One of my most basic assumptions about life was clearly just false. These were basic forms of Nature—not complex human beings, and they not only didn’t spend their whole time surviving, they actually spent much of their time just playing—with no purpose except to have fun. I never saw life the same again. If squirrels could afford to play, surely we too could survive and also play—not even as a secondary activity, but as a basic expectation of life.
So what about making New Years resolutions to have more fun, more pleasure, more play, more joy this year? This may seem obvious, or not necessary for happy people, but for people who are depressed or vulnerable to depression, this can be essential. But how do you do this, when it doesn’t come naturally? Here are some ideas:
If you are someone who plans everything, who never does anything impulsive, try some safe impulsivity. For example, if you’ve got $20 to spare, go into a store with it intending to buy anything that gives you a spark of delight, without questioning it. As long as the amount of money you set won’t hurt you to spend, let your little kid-self spend it on anything. This is just an example, not a specific recommendation. Obviously, if you’re addicted to something, don’t do the addiction as your impulsive activity. Don’t do anything that will make you feel worse later.
Similarly, try being more spontaneous. If you can afford to take a day off from work, especially if you never do unless you’re very ill, or plan it way in advance, spontaneously take a day off and do whatever makes you smile when you think about doing it—again assuming doing so will cause no harm. For example, do what tourists do in your area—something you’ve always meant to do. Make a list of things you want to do before you die, and do something on the list. Instead of driving home the same way as usual, take a turn and explore some place you’ve never been. Show up at your spouse’s work at lunchtime with flowers—the possibilities are endless.
Sometimes it helps to remember what you used to enjoy—possibly even as a child. Even if you’re not enjoying anything, or you think you don’t have the energy—try doing it anyway. Go sledding, go to an amusement park, go watch planes take off at the runway at the airport—whatever it was that used to give you joy.
Sometimes our senses can access joy when our thoughts or actions can’t. Try different scents—does the smell of vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate chip cookies baking, lavender, ocean air, coffee, bacon, peppermint, roses, Old Spice, Ax, oranges, strawberries, lemons, basil, dill, leather, new car, attic, somebody’s clothing, coconut butter, grass, wood smoke, or anything else give you joy? Music has incredible power to create joy in our brains. Is there music that does that for you? Are there other sounds, like the sounds of birds singing, or ocean waves, or water falling on rocks, or crickets…that make you smile, or feel relaxed or happy? Also touch can bring joy. Touching our skin releases Oxytocin, which creates a certain kind of joy. Moving our bodies—dancing, running, swimming, jumping, punching or kicking can also bring joy.
So however much joy and pleasure you are or aren’t experiencing—unless it’s enough—resolve to add more to you daily life. What might do it for you? You don’t have to know, but see if you can experiment, and play until you find out.
© Copyright 2011 by Cynthia W. Lubow, MS, MFT, therapist in El Cerrito, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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