Guest Author - Laura Strathman Hulka
Finding Joy, Giving Joy
For most of our lives, most of our generation seems to have battled the mindset that seems to require us to be martyrs to our families, our jobs, our houses and our civic or religious organizations. Nevertheless, especially now as our situations are changing in midlife and beyond, we need to learn to let go a bit, and reach for some of the unexpressed spiritual, or personal joys. Quite often, we can find ways to nourish the soul while providing the positive strokes we want to be viable, useful human beings.
Start with a personal survey of your likes and dislikes. Be firm with yourself, but don’t get too intense over it. Just make a list!
1. I like to read
2. I like to make jelly and jam
3. I like to swim
4. I like to garden
5. I love dogs
6. I dislike driving
7. I dislike sitting down for too long (or, alternately, standing up for too long!)
8. I dislike TV shows
9. I dislike cooking
10. I dislike fast food
Now, pick one like and one dislike, at random, to pair. (I like to read, I dislike driving)
Think of an activity that you can do for yourself that will allow you to give attention to both the like and the dislike. (Make a pot of tea, call the local grocery and set up a weekly delivery of your basic staples, so you don’t have to drive to the store, and then curl up with a good book and your teacup, for 2 hours to yourself.) Now think of an activity you can do for someone else with the same pairing. (The local library is two blocks away. I could walk down there once every couple of weeks and work for an hour in a literacy program, or reading to children, or even just shelving books.) Do that at random once a week, every two weeks, or whatever period works for you. Use one list until all the pairings are used up, or you think of others with which you would like to experiment.
Think of some variations on the theme. Do the list with your best friend, your partner, an elderly parent, a grandchild. It sounds trite, but think outside the box! Use the things that give you joy, and combine them with new ways to minimize burdensome things or aggravations.
Now, take an additional step, and add to your list a third element; “Things I would like to do or learn”:
1. I would like to learn to make soap.
2. I would like to learn to play the guitar.
3. I would like to learn sign language.
4. I would like to go to an Elderhostel program.
5. I would like to go to the Redwoods for a week.
Add one new thing to your mix. Don’t be too hard on yourself – if it begins to seem less joyous, move on! However, give each item on your list a fair chance, say, 6 weeks. Again, decide if you would like to share the activity with someone else. Maybe you have a sister or friend who would love to go to the Redwoods with you. Alternatively, perhaps you have a grandchild that is fascinated by the guitar.
Now, for the last step, make a list of the things that you are good at doing, and would be willing to teach:
1. I can crochet
2. I like to do container gardens
3. I am good at creating recipes
4. I know basic 35mm photography
5. I know a lot about foreign films
Now, how can you share that talent? Don’t like the idea of teaching in a classroom setting? Then write a pattern, design a container garden, create a new cookie, volunteer to teach a Girl Scout troop for a few weeks, devise an online curriculum for a just-for-fun course in a specific decade or actor in foreign films, and find a source for it.
The gist of it is, of course, to experiment with you. What do you like to do, share, explore, envision? Find what gives you joy, and increase tenfold that joy by sharing of yourself, your dreams, and your skills. Enjoy!