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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Mindfulness - Comfort and joy

Julie Saint-Mleux - Nova Scotia, March 2016

I have been reflecting on the sources of comfort and joy in my life. Without comfort, life can be stressful and painful. Without joy, life can be bland and boring. Even the most privileged need comfort from life's vagaries and existential angst. Even the sickest and the poorest find ways to instill joy in their lives. Together, comfort and joy make happiness possible. Whether it takes the form of pleasure and excitement (the youth's definition of happiness) or fulfillment and serenity (the old's definition of happiness), we all yearn for it.

When I paused to think about it, I realized that few pleasurable activities are harmless. In our use of happiness-promoting activities to cope with and enjoy life, how can we make sure that we do not harm ourselves or others? The following - and very popular - activities can all have a negative impact on our health, relationships, wallet, or other live things:

  • Drugs - illicit and licit (alcohol, cigarettes, etc.): disqualified
  • Food consumed for pleasure, especially if it's low in nutrients and/or high in unhealthy ingredients such as sodium and sugardisqualified
  • Screen time/electronics: disqualified
  • Most of the media (magazines, TV): disqualified
  • Shopping for the sake of shopping: disqualified
  • Sunbathing - disqualified
  • Long, hot showers - disqualified
  • Crushes and sex for the wrong reasons: disqualified
  • Workaholism/overtraining: disqualified
  • Even traveling, which I love, is polluting: disqualified

I am not saying that those things, consumed in moderation, are all and always bad for you: an occasional glass of wine, piece of cake, movie, video game, purchase (especially if it's local and/or fair trade), etc, will probably be harmless. The problem arises from the frequency at which we resort to our sources of comfort and joy: for many of us, many of those soon turn into a regular habit, or worse, an addiction... with the results we know too well. What are we to do? Can a healthy, balanced, moral and ethical person have fun in this life? I gave it some thought and here is what I came up with. Harmless sources of comfort and joy:

Challenges that are "just right" - e.g. training for and running a race
Creative activities - building/creating something (ideally out of recycled/repurposed materials!) 
Discovery/learning new things - makes you feel young and alive
Healthy foods that we love - if unhealthy foods are not the best option, perhaps we can redirect our enthusiasm toward healthy ones? I know I get pretty excited when I see that asparagus is in season. What are your healthy foods?
Meaningful activities - sharing your time, your talents, your ideas
Meditating - self-explanatory
Music - listening, playing, singing, composing
Nature - that can take so many forms: hiking, camping, birdwatching, gardening, going to a farmer's market, listening to the rain, admiring a sunset, interacting with your pets
Playing - go back to the basics with water, snow, board games, cards, etc.
Physical activity that you enjoy - exercising is great but not always fun; find something that you truly like to do
Reading - anything that you enjoy
Socializing - ideally with pleasant, interesting, like-minded people
Snuggles - with a loved one, a child, a pet. Giving or receiving a massage also works; it's all about the contact
Spirituality - to some this equates faith/religion, but it does not have to. All you need is to be aware of something bigger than you, that transcends your five senses.

To maximize the effect of those pleasurable but simple activities, you will have to make yourself more receptive to pleasure. How do you do that? By retraining yourself - children know how to enjoy life and get excited about things as simple as a caterpillar. When was the last time you got excited over a caterpillar? We may have lost that ability but we can find it again; here's how:

  • Be grateful - take time to fully recognize the positive in your life
  • Deprive yourself - by allowing yourself the big sources of pleasure less often, you will appreciate them more 
  • Cultivate mindfulness - be in the moment, pay attention - notice the little joys. And if you are going to indulge in your "vice" (mine is anything chocolatey), put all your awareness into it

It might take hard work, but I strongly believe that the comfort and joy you will get on that basis will be the purest and most fulfilling. 

Mindfulness this Week

What are your sources of - harmless - comfort and joy?

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  1. I like your list!!

    I still get excited over a caterpillar :-)

  2. Oh I love this as you are SO VERY RIGHT.
    Few are harmless and, sometimes, even those which on the surface are can get...even just distracting when we do them too much.

  3. I am a little late to your post, but none the less enthused for all that. Finding myself unexpectedly thrust, after breaking my shoulder, into a state of ongoing pain and uncertainty which is going to last much longer than I had ever anticipated, I have been thinking a lot about moment-to-moment experiencing and moments of comfort. I am going to think some more, having read your lovely post.