Lately, there’s been a heaviness in the air.
(And I’m not talking about the aggressive humidity that comes with 85-degree heat before the first official day of summer has even arrived in the northeast.)
It’s a heaviness of the heart.
It’s the stress and anxiety that sits on your chest.
It’s the sadness that covers you, even when you try to push it away.
It’s the defeat that comes when you realize you can’t single-handedly fix everything that’s wrong, in your life and in the world at large.
I’ve been deep in the heaviness the past few weeks, and honestly, it’s felt right to be there. Between personal anxiety and professional struggles and wars and shootings and the madness of the daily news cycle, I haven’t wanted to look away from all the ugliness in the world.
But as much as I didn’t want to ignore the suffering going on around me, I could feel myself getting sucked down the negativity rabbit hole. I could feel how sluggish it was making me. How unmotivated. How sad. How disconnected from those small, joyful moments we all experience each day—if we take the time to notice.
So that’s what I vowed to do: to notice.
To look for and recognize those seconds or minutes or hours each day when we’re truly engaged in something joyful, no matter how small.
That moment popped up for me faster than I expected. In the middle of a particularly emotional day full of work stress and nonstop coverage of the Uvalde school shooting, I sat down on my couch, computer on lap, to jump back into my to-dos. My boyfriend was napping on the other side, and within seconds of me taking a seat, he stretched his legs out and put them on mine. Then my dog, never one to be left out, climbed into the cramped space between us and closed his eyes.
As I glanced over at these two, sleeping peacefully and breathing loudly in our sun-drenched, peaceful home, I felt myself exhale and smile. Then I rested my head against the back of the couch and soaked in as much joy as I could.
In less than a minute, I was back to the work and the stress and the heaviness, but even that amount of time was enough to make the hard feel a little easier.
A few days later, I asked our readers a question: “What is one ritual or practice that always brings a little bit of joy into your life?” Here are 30 responses that helped lighten the heaviness and connect me with joy:
1. “Sniffing the top of my dog’s head; for some reason it’s a great anxiety reliever.” ~ Ryan
2. “Tea made by my husband.” ~ Gina
3. “Making my bed. Seems like nothing, but it’s been the only routine my ADHD brain can actually manage to do, on busy, difficult days or not. Makes me feel like eventually I can add more.” ~ Meghan
4. “Lying in bed in the morning listening to NPR.” ~ Mary
5. “Washing my hands slowly and deliberately.” ~ Sandy
6. “Picking my perfume for the day.” ~ Jenni
7. “Folding the laundry of loved ones, especially the littles.” ~ Kathleen
8. “Making soup.” ~ Georgiann
9. “At 80 years old and a two-time survivor of lung cancer, I’m now limited in ways I can exercise or dance but every morning my greatest joy is doing the same barre work I’ve done for the past 70 years.” ~ Carolyn
10. “Being kind to others even if I’m having a bad day.” ~ Stephanie
11. “Holding the door for someone.” ~ Arleen
12. “Picking my children up from school at the end of their learning day.” ~ Carol
13. “Going out while listening to my favourite music and singing in the street while people look at me in a strange way!” ~ Ombretta
14. “Planting daffodils to remind me that even if I’m not there in the spring, the flowers will be.” ~ Paula
15. “Picking up litter as I walk my dog.” ~ Chip
16. “Watching my grandsons on Mondays and Fridays while their mom and dad work!” ~ Eleanor
17. “After work, I sit for five minutes or so on my bed and talk to my two kitties. The ritual is called ‘two cats, two hands.’ It brings me back to center.” ~ Susan
18. “Masturbation.” ~ Cyn
19. “Going through photos of past travels.” ~ Izabela
20. “Intuitive painting or creating art out of random stuff.” ~ Barbara
21. “Listening to Led Zeppelin while taking a power walk. Puts me in a great mood.” ~ Carol
22. “Attending mass.” ~ Susan
23. “Reminiscing with my old friends. This always puts a smile on my face.” ~ Joseph
24. “Making my own kombucha. I started in 2018 and have brewed over 700 bottles…it’s a great feeling making your own brewski!” ~ Deborah
25. “Feeding birds. I take care of Nature; she takes care of me.” ~ Wendi
26. “Eating a navel orange.” ~ Steve
27. “Singing with friends in a choir.” ~ Carol
28. “Sounds crazy but choosing my coffee cup for my morning coffee always gives me a little lift.” ~ Brenda
29. “Taking care of my 150 houseplants.” ~ Renee
30. “I have this spot in my apartment that grounds me. So, I’ll take a moment to stand there as a personal ‘Control Alt Delete.'” ~ Ashley