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Lately, I’ve been applying a Marie Kondo approach to surviving pandemic life. Not in the sense of minimizing and tidying- but utilizing her essential question- “Does this spark joy?” Whereas Kondo recommends asking this question about whether or not to keep or discard an object, I’ve been using this question to guide weekly planning for myself and my family. In pre-pandemic life I thought about enjoyment, of course, but when prioritizing how we would spend our time the major considerations tended to be around school, work, and my kids’ extracurricular activities. Now, I’m intentionally chasing joyful moments, asking myself: What else can we do to bring joy and pleasure into our lives? If it makes us smile, I want more of it.

So much of pandemic life is anxiety-inducing, disappointing, infuriating, repetitive. Most people I know are some combination of numb, burned-out, barely keeping it together. These responses make sense given all we are enduring. In my role as a psychologist I have always been honored to witness and support those I work with as they go through life’s hardships. With the pandemic, I am now walking alongside my clients in a more connected, interrelated way than before, as we often share a similar pandemic-landscape.
And so- these last nearly-two-years- I’ve been thinking and writing about the essential principles we can use as a guide for sustaining ourselves through these ongoing difficult times. For those I work with and for myself. One of those principles is to prioritize- and savor- joyful moments.

We can think of our capacity to handle stressful moments as being like a bank account we draw from. Each time a stressor occurs, the resilience-account gets depleted. School unexpectedly cancelled: bank-withdrawal. Unexpected house leak: the balance gets depleted. Triggering current event in the news: the reserves dip further. In contrast, each time we are mindful to a present, pleasurable moment- we make a deposit in the resilience-account. Savoring delicious coffee for 10 quiet minutes: the balance goes up. Going for a 30 minute hike on freshly powdered snow: Cha-ching! Laughing along to Ted Lasso: the reserves are restored.

Experiencing joy doesn’t erase the stress or change difficult circumstances. But tuning into joyful experiences can give us strength. Being mindful of the small, pleasurable moments that bring us joy can help us have the fortitude to weather the difficult moments.
The key, then, is not only to seek out moments that bring us pleasure; but to be fully present for them. Not ruminating about the past or anticipating the future but to take in the present experience deeply- using all of our senses. Recently my joy-seizing efforts have included making an enormous feast of nothing but Thanksgiving-side dishes, allowing my daughter to dye her hair blue, and investing in serious snow-gear so I’m toasty-warm when running outside with a dear friend.
How will you spark joy for yourself this week?

Beth Pearson, Ph.D.