When I was facing a serious health crisis, my life felt like it had been turned upside down. My usual routine of going to school, working, and seeing friends was disrupted and replaced with going to doctor visits, researching my condition, and getting extra rest that my body needed.
Because a diagnosis didn’t come quickly, I craved the familiar — and a sense of certainty — even more. Soon, it became vital to find things that anchored me. While I searched for answers, I found it necessary to focus on what made me happy and brought me strength. My pursuit of answers morphed into a pursuit of beauty as I realized that I might not be able to immediately get well or to make my life simpler, but I was able to discover tools for navigating the journey — and find happiness along the way.
If you’re experiencing challenging times, here are tips for finding joy amidst the struggle.
Take yourself on artist dates
I first learned about “artist dates” from an English professor in college. Artist dates encourage people to go on mini-adventures, observe what they see, and create art inspired by their experiences. I have been going on photography adventures around my neighborhood this year. I set a theme of “flowers” in the spring when everything was in bloom, and have continued throughout the year by paying attention to cool-looking trees, interesting patterns of clouds and, if I am lucky, a cute cat or dog or two. (Birds and squirrels have proven to be too quick and elusive.)
The point isn’t to take the most amazing photos ever (not everything has to be Instagram-worthy!), but rather to enjoy the process of seeing what’s around me. The experience reframes my mindset — I become more attuned to things I may have overlooked, and I return to my daily life with fresh eyes.
Reach out to loved ones by phone
Whether it’s via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, or just a regular phone call, reach out to loved ones to connect. There is something special and intimate about hearing someone’s voice that email and texting can’t quite match. When I hear my best friend laughing while telling me a funny story about something her husband said, it makes me want to laugh, too. When I hear my uncle share memories of my aunt who passed away last year, I join him in processing what was a great loss to my family. The sadness eases because it is shared — and because we remind each other of the good times and special things we appreciated about my aunt. Or, when I hear my brother teasing his 5-year-old son who starts uncontrollably giggling, I am reminded of the innocence of childhood and a bit of that magic touches my day.
In recent months, I have started to set aside a day of the week to slow down and pick up the phone. It is not uncommon for introverted people (like me!) to wait for the other person to reach out, but everyone I’ve called has sounded genuinely happy to talk. So, even if you’re more reserved, don’t be afraid to make the first move. The reward of deepening your connections is worth it.
Read for pleasure
There was a time when I leapt out of bed and dove headfirst into the activity of my day, but I often ended up feeling rushed and stressed. Now, before I get up, I lay in bed for 15 or 20 minutes reading just for pleasure. (Sure, I might do a quick scroll through social media feeds, but then, I close them out and turn to reading a few pages of my current library book.)
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After my day winds down and my work and daily chores are complete, reading for pleasure feels like a reward. Instead of scrolling through Twitter, I get lost in a story. Reading itself becomes a “bookend” to my day.
Shift your focus
Sometimes, it is important to think about ourselves, but other times, our own struggles are eased by lending a hand to someone else — even if that is done from afar. When new neighbors recently moved into the area, I sent them a note to welcome them. Later, when I ran into them on the street for the first time, there wasn’t that initial awkwardness. The greater the focus is on simply being kind, the easier it becomes to forge genuine connections.
While there is much in life beyond my control, I’ve found both strength and clarity through discovering what works best for me. Often, the things that ground us are those that are elementary. Sometimes, we just need to shift our attention back to the basics.