Serendipity has been sniffing around of late. The pragmatist in me says it is merely coincidence, but I’m looking for signs to guide me and I’m seeing serendipity EVERYwhere.
- Oh look, there’s a bag of mini dim-sims buried in the back of the freezer: that’s clearly a sign to gorge on the entire bag!
- Kathmandu is having a winter sale and you don’t like the cold, so it’s a sign you better drop 800 bucks on a duck down jacket!
- Nice cut to a scene in Central Park – it’s definitely a sign you should fly into your favourite city, where the publishing gods will stumble upon your awesomeness as you’re checking out the view from the Top of the Rock!
Right. There may be no legitimate signs, no actual serendipity, but when you’re intent on finding joy, you’ll move toward whatever glimmer of light flits into vision.
For me, finding joy has meant ditching the good-girl people-pleasing tendencies. It’s meant discarding caution like a redundant robe, to do keg stands with my sister and play beer pong with strangers. (I jest. I’m in my 40s. Drinking a second glass of wine feels wild these days!) In truth, with age, I’ve found joy in the little things:
- Watching friends open gifts over pre-dinner drinks.
- Bathing in a tub so big I can close my eyes and float to Destination Anywhere.
- People watching – at the supermarket, the local pub and on frenetic city streets.
- The realisation that I no longer look back on the past and think “why me?” but rather, “I’m a better person for that experience”.
- Hearing my gorgeous friend laugh so hard, I have to scrounge for her asthma inhaler.
- Walking arm in arm with a soul sister, squealing and laughing and willing each other to slip on black ice.
Chances are, you have absolute clarity about what you DON’T like – anti-fungal nail cream ads, the smell of burning plastic, that one aggressive pebble hiding out in your shoe – but you haven’t given the same time and energy to determining what you DO like.
Figuring out what you want out of life can be a lifelong process. And while everyone knows it’s important to do the things that make us happy, it can be overwhelming to determine where to start.
What are my top 5 tips to finding joy in the every day? Let me show you. Little hand says it’s time to rock and roll!
I. ERADICATE THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMMM
1991 was a particularly memorable year for catchy, cheese-ball music and loud fashion—hypercolor t-shirts, “happy pants” – anything bright and baggy was considered hip. Thankfully, the Seattle Grunge scene exploded a year or so later and it was all about Docs, washed out denim with rips at the knees, and flannelette shirts over vintage tees—but I digress. In 1991, songs by Roxette and Bryan Adams were both on high rotation and on top of the charts for weeks at a time. I listened to Top 40 like my life depended on it back then (as a spritely 11-year-old!) and one song from that year has been stuck in my head ever since: Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…. by C&C Music Factory. Every single time someone says, “Hmmmm”, or cocks their eyebrow to suggest, “Hmmmm”, the tune kicks off in my head.
What are the things that make you go hmmmm?
- Maybe it’s that one colleague who takes credit for the work of others. (Yes, Martin, I’m looking at you!)
- It might be that one friend who ALWAYS finishes their partner’s sentences.
- Possibly it’s seeing grown men adjust their genitals mid conversation. (Seriously Kevin, cut that shit out!)
Whatever makes you go, hmmmm, it’s important to identify so you can work to eradicate the discomfort factor from your daily experience. By recognising the things that make you uncomfortable, you can take steps to minimise their impact on your life.
II. CREATE YOUR COOL LIST
After I first saw Point Break waaay back in 1994, the Luke Perry posters came down, replaced with a black-and-white floor-to-ceiling still from the opening scenes, where Keanu’s character—Johnny Utah—is looking back over his shoulder after acing target practice in the rain. Keanu influenced my taste in men—tall, dark, pensive—and is officially the number one ticket holder on my cool list.
Photography is cool. Be it a candid portrait, an unposed snap of utter delight, or a poignant sepia landscape: the notion of capturing a moment in time, of locking down a memory or a story in matte or high gloss, is phenomenal. Blood donors are cool. As are dog-people – as gregarious as their four-legged friends, with a contagious lust for life.
Take 10 minutes to jot down the people, places and things that you find ultra-chic, uber-captivating and effortlessly cool. Do you go through phases? Have your tastes changed with the seasons, or are you a woman with very particular preferences that have been locked in for years? (See aforementioned penchant for King of Cool: Keanu.)
III. SPEND LESS TIME IN SPACES THAT SUCK YOUR SOUL
When I first left home, I used to work at a pizza place in the food court at Chadstone Shopping Centre. 24-hour trade prior to Christmas had to be experienced to be believed. The busiest hour for selling pizzas—when supply simply could not meet demand—was 2am. My right forearm felt like it was going to explode. Sweat dripped from my nose onto the pizzas (gross!) and no one gave a hoot-in-hell because they were STARVING and they needed Hawaiian. Pronto. Customers shouted over one another while I did my best impersonation of Special Agent Oblivious and just kept hacking away at pizza after pizza to get it under the lights of the unkempt bain-marie.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that being amongst the throngs – who relish last minute shopping, who find it “fun” to window-shop and wander aimlessly, and who strap their children into monster-strollers stuffed with well-loved toys that looked like they’ve been stolen from the bottom of a puppy play pen – is not my jam, baby. Not even a bit.
If, like me, mega-malls suck the joy from your soul, back away quietly and don’t make any sudden movements, lest the mall rats feign horrified disbelief that you don’t love everything about shopping.
Alternatively, maybe you get sensory overload from sitting in a bustling cafe (the too-eclectic playlist, the hiss of the coffee machine and glasses clinking, the obscure conversations that flitter in and out of earshot, the kid on the next table playing with the salt and pepper shakers to “make them war”). Remove the problem: grab a takeaway and catch up at the park instead.
Possibly you feel exhausted after downing lunch alongside colleagues that insist on conversing (about their cats’ latest escapades, or the state of their houseplants). If you’re nodding, use your lunch break to lock in some midday respite. Go listen to a mindful meditation, or find a quiet space for a power nap, or go for a brisk stroll around the block.
But seriously though, if you find yourself feeling depleted after being in a particular space – wherever that happens to be – take the time to identify what it is about the space that drains your vitality (and leeches your spirit). That way, you can take actions to minimise the time you spend on unnecessary energy expenditure.
IV. LET GO OF THE REINS AND GIVE SPONTANEITY A RUN
I’m a two-fold contradiction, if there is such a thing: I’ve never rigorously planned my writing, yet I’ve always organised every other aspect of my life down to the smallest detail.
I have had a few epiphanies in recent years: sadness begets sadness; lost mojo can be very hard to find; and sometimes, a good cry really does help. The profoundest epiphany I’ve had, however, is that pre-empting what will logically happen next can be fruitless. By assuming we know what lies ahead, we set ourselves up to be consumed by anger and a sense of injustice when reality supersedes our visions for tomorrow. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that.
My Fairy-Godmother once sat me down for a brutally honest chat about my propensity to get ahead of myself:
“You try so hard, Potatee, to have all your ducks neatly in a row, but then you are bitterly disappointed when the cards don’t fall the way you’ve predicted. You always try to jump seven hurdles at once. Maybe you could just try to take one at a time for a change. It will mean altering the way you think, but spontaneity could be good for you.”
Even though, subconsciously, I knew all this about myself already, I was stunned that someone else pinpointed my character, my quirks, my vulnerabilities with such precision. As a result, I became fixated on being more spontaneous and less meticulous.
As a means of recalibrating, I made a plan with five simple rules:
- Make friends with Spontaneity—she will be your salvation.
- Don’t think too much—because over-analysis leads to paralysis.
- Say YES more than NO – leave your comfort zone in some small way, every day.
- Find a positive in every challenging situation – because every problem provides a learning opportunity.
- Open every conversation with a ‘real’ question—skip the small talk and dive straight into connecting.
I like to think of this as The Unplanned Plan that attempts to loosen the reins a little. To allow the worry-knots that have manifested over a lifetime to disentangle themselves. And to actively stop trying to control the uncontrollable.
V. RECOGNISE THE PERSON YOU ARE RIGHT NOW IS TRANSIENT
There’s a really interesting TED Talk about the constant evolution of who we are, what we like, and what we deem important. In his talk, Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert points out that:
“Most of us can remember who we were 10 years ago, but we find it hard to imagine who we’re going to be, and then we mistakenly think that because it’s hard to imagine, it’s not likely to happen…The bottom line is, time is a powerful force. It transforms our preferences. It reshapes our values. It alters our personalities. We seem to appreciate this fact, but only in retrospect. Only when we look backwards do we realise how much change happens in a decade. It’s as if, for most of us, the present is a magic time. It’s a watershed on the timeline. It’s the moment at which we finally become ourselves. Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting, and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.”
Take a moment to think about the changes you can recognise emerging in yourself.
- Maybe you’re starting to embrace how the unpredictability of life leads to new avenues, new beginnings, new perspectives.
- Possibly you’re ready to look back on the past decade as an immeasurable learning experience.
- Potentially, you are beginning to consider the value of experiencing your euphoric highs and woeful lows.
Are you able to recognise that the person you were, the person you are, and the person you will become, are each important, complex and different beings?
Are you ready to let life unfold without fighting against it? After all, it is not only an easier way to exist, but it has the potential to be so much more fulfilling too.
In her incomparable memoir, Wild, Cheryl Strayed contemplates the notion of deeply reflecting on one of the most powerful question stems – “What if?”:
“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
Ugly truth time: Life-ing is a tough gig, and no one has it all figured out. But if you’re forever trying to find the ultimate life hack, or the perfect path to move forward, you’ll never start and the world will leave you behind. (Told you it was ugly!)
George Bernard Shaw reminds us:
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
It all starts with the first step. It doesn’t have to be monumental or earth shattering, but taking action propels you forward.
Find a way to initiate the very next step you need to take, and TAKE IT. Find your joy. Find out what you want to do with your one wild life, and fucking do it already. You owe it to yourself, girl. It’s your turn.
- Enjoy a Johnny Utah montage HERE.
- Watch the music video for Things That Make You Go Hmmmm HERE.
- You can watch Dan Gilbert’s TED Talk HERE.
- Watch the trailer for Wild HERE.