As I have mentioned previously I am doing the Happiness Project Experience this year. June is the month of Play! As adults play becomes less acceptable and becomes lost in the detritus of life, but having read around the topic for the past couple of weeks I can see how important it is, and particularly what a difference it makes to me and my engagement with the world.
This is perfect timing for me. Many of the books I’ve read on anxiety and how to manage it have focussed on being ‘with’ the anxiety – acknowledge it is there, without judgement and appreciate it is a part of me. The problem is I have been ‘with’ my anxiety to too great a degree and I have actually been spiralling further into its dark depths. I’d already started to think that this had to stop and I had to engage with life in a fuller and more light-hearted way. Although, I have to confess I had no idea how much had been written on this subject and I have well and truly been sucked down a bright, joyful rabbit hole in my desire to learn more!
I pulled a book off my shelf, ‘Living out Loud’ by Keri Smith. As with all the other books I’ve read it asks the question ‘What did you love to do as a child? What activities allowed you to lose all sense of time and space’? For me it was make-believe, dolls-houses, Sandy dolls, cars (my mum’s mantel piece made a great multi-storey car park), painting, colouring, making anything with my Grandad and as I got older knitting and sewing. Quite often the start of a school holiday meant a visit to Bratt & Dykes in Hanley for some fabric and a pattern.
It’s almost as if the cogs of the wheel were lining up to fall into place, to point me in the direction of play and with it, joy. As I flew from Bristol to Portugal I listened to Fearne Cotton interviewing Maisie Williams on her Happy Place Podcast. Maisie referred to a book ‘Ikigai‘ by Hector Garcia. I’ve not read the book (yet), but the way she explained it is that there are 4 aspects of life, when they overlap you will be happy. One of the four – and the one that most resonated with Maisie Williams was to do something that you love every day. It got me thinking. What do I love to do and how can I fit it in to my everyday life.
Finally I started reading ‘Joyful‘ by Ingrid Fettell Lee. She has identified 10 ‘aesthetics of joy’. I’m not yet halfway through the book yet but the things that have stood out for me are:
Abundance: Not as in having too much of anything, rather, having variety. One example she gives is that of a small child who chooses their own outfit – spots, stripes, bright wellies on a sunny day – you get the idea! An example of my own is a day on the beach – the sand, the sea, the umbrellas, the people laughing, people in the sea, boats, the waves, the people on the bouncy inflatables – there is always something happening that involves most of your senses at that time and provides multiple reasons to laugh out loud. I could spend hours just sitting watching the world go by.
One aspect of Abundance I found interesting was the relationship with food. More often than not, when you turn to food it is because your brain is lacking stimulation. I have decided to use this approach with online games – I know when I am playing them it’s because I’m bored and I also tend to start snacking at the same time. So I’ve started to put the tablet down and to pick something up that I know will bring me joy – make a cup of tea, read a book, do some crochet, make something – something that I really will lose myself in.
Colour: I used to love colour – in everything. Most of my clothes were those taste-transplant clothes that you see in the shops that no one in their right mind would buy! It was me – I bought them! Somewhere, when my need to fit in was at it’s peak, the colour seeped out of me and I became Mrs Navy & White. Colour changes everything, in your wardrobe and your home. The current trend is for muted tones in homes, and it would be fair to say that I haven’t quite mastered that one! Our home is mis-matched at best, but since we recently downsized, everything we do have provides us with joy.
Play: Play means different things for different people. Some things that people love to do, I really don’t enjoy, but likewise there are things I love to do that other people don’t. I’m not a fan of big dinner parties, but I love eating out with small groups of friends. I love playing in orchestras and bands, but hate playing solos. When I look back to my childhood it didn’t really matter to me if I was on my own or in a group – it was the activity I was involved in that was the cause of joy – that allowed me to lose myself in the moment. Play is increasingly being identified as something that people need – sadly it would appear that the age at which children stop playing, or believe that it is in appropriate, is getting younger and younger as the pressure to achieve academically is increasing.
So, how can I introduce more play, more joy into my life?
I’ve started by posting on instagram one thing each day that brings joy into my life. Despite all the evidence to the contrary – things can bring joy. Marie Kondo is on to something here! Where it goes pear shaped is when you start to buy things for the sake of buying, for the gratification you get from buying it (generally, short-lived) rather than the joy it brings in the long term. Equally, you can get joy from the world around you – the one thing that brings me joy more than anything is looking at the stars at night. This is having the knock-on effect of encouraging me to look around me – what are those things that bring me joy – so I am engaging more with the world and people I’m with.
I’ve started to listen to music every day. As the song says, “Music was my first love”. When I worked I got ready to the radio every morning, had the radio on in the car to and from work and generally listened to music far more than I do now. So I’m making a point of listening to music every day, trying new music, singing along to old classics, even throwing in the odd move or two.
I’m trying to bring more colour into my life! I’m trying to move away from the navy and white, by adding in little additional bits of colour with scarves, ear-rings and bold coloured shoes or bags.
I’m trying to make something every day. I love making things. I spot things all the time in shops that I think I could make just as well. This month I am having a go, rather than just thinking the thought. I’m practicing calligraphy; I want to learn how to copy dress patterns from the Portuguese pattern books; I’ve seen some key-rings that I thing I could copy, make and leave as gifts for people stopping at our apartment this summer; I have some beautiful fabric that I brought in Seville that I’d like to make into a dress.
I’ve realised that I love yoga. Play can mean anything to different people, as can exercise. For me, yoga and exercise counts as play, it’s something that I do and that I love. I don’t consider it a chore, but a key part of the day and something that brings me joy – I’m not particularly good at it, but I really do love it and embrace it with gusto!
Obviously, I’m still drinking cups of tea! Nothing brings joy quite like a nice cup of tea!
I have to say, that after only 2 weeks it has made a difference to the way I feel. Rather than continually looking in, I am looking outward and seeing the joy in the world. I am looking for opportunities add joy and play to my days and I have to say I am enjoying myself! For the first time in a long time, I can honestly say I am enjoying myself!