I posted a photo album to my personal Facebook page a few weeks ago and it has had more likes and comments than almost anything else I have ever posted (save for a few pictures of my kids and some stories about my misadventures in parenting).
The album included photographs I took that morning after dropping my kids off at school. The light was just perfect. The fog and dew glittering through the trees and spider webs reminded me of a dream. I felt creative with my camera in hand and grateful for the experience.
I was really proud of the photos. But, in all honesty, I was really surprised at how well they were received. A few people even shared the album! I felt honored.
And then, I started thinking. (I’ve mentioned before that I do that too much.) Why this album? Why these photos? What is going on?
So I asked a few of the people who commented on the photos why they liked them. One friend told me that she loved the light. That it evoked a sense of mystery and drama. A neighbor said that she had walked that road every day and had never seen it look so beautiful. It made her look at her surroundings with a renewed sense of appreciation.
But, it was my husband who clicked on a key element for me. “You love taking photographs of nature. Maybe it’s the scientist in you. It’s a way to look at the world up close. And that love comes through in the photos.”
He knows me well. He knows that I am slightly agoraphobic. Maybe it’s because I grew up in New York City, but being outside in open spaces makes me nervous.
Don’t get me wrong, I love LOOKING at nature.
Through a window.
Well, maybe I’m exaggerating… a bit. I do like being outdoors. I like to hike, ski, sunbathe. But if I feel like the space is too vast, I get uncomfortably anxious. Give me a softball diamond or ultimate frisbee field and can stay out until it’s dark. Show me a beach with waves and I will sail over them or jump through them with a huge smile on my face. But put me in a wide open field and tell me to wander around and I can barely move my feet.
For me, a camera is my crutch. Looking through the view finder (yes, I still have a camera with a view finder), gives borders to the open expanse. Taking photos of nature allows me to get the benefits of being outdoors without the anxiety.
And there is something else that my husband touched upon. I get immense joy from photography. I always have. I received my first camera when I was 6 or 7. I took a class my junior year of high school and learned to develop my own prints. I interned at a photojournalist co-operative in my senior year. I even submitted slides (yes, slides. I’m dating myself!) of my prints with my college application.
And then I arrived at college and my hobby was replaced by school work, dorm life, sports teams, friends, and, yes, an occasional party or two. I let my camera collect dust. Occasionally pulling it out but not really embracing it like I had before. Sure, we have about 10,000 photos of our boys from when they were baby bumps to newborns to their current energetic, playful selves. And a handful of them are extra special. But, even today, I rarely make time to grab my camera and just go out to shoot what I see.
Which is what I did on that day a few weeks ago. It was something about how the dew made the spider webs stand out on the fences on our walk home that morning that just triggered something in me. I’ve been reading Martha Beck‘s Finding Your Own North Star (which is an amazing book if you haven’t read it). Martha is a Harvard-educated sociologist who has become one of the most well-known life coaches of our time. She writes a column for O Magazine and has authored several books about her experiences and philosophies. Martha talks a lot about finding your authentic self. The part of you that comes from listening to your voice. And not the voices that your parents, family, friends, society as a whole, have told you to believe. We have to separate our needs, wants, and expectations from what Vishen Lakhiani of Mindvalley.com calls “society’s brules” (bullsh*t rules).
To quote Martha:
“The only reason for a human to exist is the possibility to experience happiness. To feel joy. I had never made that a priority. I wanted to be successful and I’d forgotten all about joy.”
Does this quote resonate with you too? It hit me so hard that my brain hurt. I have been searching to reclaim my “successful self” since taking the unexpected path onto the expat planet. But even copious amounts of the wine and fois gras have not led me to feeling any more “authentically” joyful.
So… how do I find joy? How do you? Well, Martha and many life coaches and counselors suggest starting simply: Make a list.
What brings you joy? When do you feel happy?
I started brainstorming:
- I like photography
- I feel happy when I’m practicing yoga
- I like being a shoulder for people to lean on
- I like science
- I feel happy when I’m volunteering at my kids’ school
- I feel happy when I connect with my friends
There is more, of course, but I’m not sharing all my secrets with you.
This list should be unique and authentic for you.
Do you like animals? Kids? Museums? Baking?
Once you have made a list, see how you can fit in some of these things activities into your daily life. Rotate them (especially if your time is limited), so you can give them all a try. For example, this morning I went with my son’s class to the gymnasium for their sports lesson. After I finish this blog post, I’m going to look at IFLScience for a science fix. Tomorrow I plan to take my camera with me on my school run again and schedule a skype call with a friend in the US.
Finding time to discover and add more joyful moments in our lives is so important. Especially when we find ourselves feeling at a crossroads. And, based on talking with friends and family members, I think so many of us are facing transitionary points in our lives right now. So if you are feeling this way, please know you are not alone. But, then, why do we feel alone?
I think it’s because we are spending more time communicating through written comments than through spoken words. We follow people on Instagram and Facebook and compare our unfiltered reality to their filtered version. Seeing only what they chose to share publicly. We think we are connecting when, in fact, we are missing human connection. The connection that comes from talking to someone on the phone or meeting up for coffee or cocktails. Getting a good ol’ fashion hug. That’s why cuddle parties are getting so popular.
All of which means that we find ourselves feeling more and more isolated even as we spend more energy trying to engage. Not all of us, of course, feel this way. But many of us do. And, as a result, we project our unhappiness out into our surroundings. And we get stuck. The way to unstick ourselves, is to invest our energy in coming unstuck. Make a plan. Figure out how to unstick yourself before you begin trying and you will find that the process will become easier. For many of us, myself included, it’s a paradigm shift. It is hard for me to sit down and make a list of what makes me feel happy. But I don’t always get a consistent amount of time to myself. And, if I have a 10 minute break and spent 5 of those minutes trying to think of what to do that makes me happy, I’d just be wasting my precious time. To quote Martha again:
“The more time you spend loving the life you’ve created so far, the more empowered you’ll be to create a life you love.”
Every parent who has sleep-trained a child has heard the expression “sleep begets sleep.” This is “joy begets joy.”
And the first step can be as simple as going outside on a foggy morning.