Updated: Jul 16
By Brenda Riojas, I Start Wondering Columnist
We can all use more moments of levity in our days. But unless someone nudges us toward the sun, away from our work routine, or from the dark spell before us, we typically don’t schedule time for fun and laughter. Is it that we don’t consider it essential? Or is it something we think should come spontaneously?
Given all the stressors in our days, particularly those that come from living in the midst of a pandemic, we could all benefit from some levity. It is a perfect remedy that also helps build up our immune system.
It’s a challenge for creative souls to move forward when we are caught in darkness, days heavy with clouds where joy seems out of reach. Mental health is a topic we should not avoid. It is helpful to have conversations about what we are feeling. As each person is unique, we must individually find the remedies that work best for our particular disposition, recognizing as well that there is no quick fix.
Photo by Xavier Mouton Photographie on Unsplash
But we can incorporate some practices to help relieve some of the darkness. The book Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk provides some excellent insight. I highly recommend it as a perfect read to start a conversation on the topic of depression and the strategies that he employed.
One of the strategies included humor. Lincoln, who as the author notes, “lived in the night and made a strong effort to bring the sun in,” collected jokes and funny stories. Lincoln said they were his “medicine,” noting they are “the vents of my moods and gloom.”
Shenk writes that “The psychologist George Vaillant, a student of adaptations, or strategies used to combat depression and anxiety, identifies humor as the most effective of all.”
According to St. John’s Health Foundation in Jackson, Wyoming, “Some physicians even write ‘prescriptions’ for their patients to incorporate 30-minutes of laugher into each day.”
Finding Bubbles of Joy
Before the pandemic, my mother-in-law was living alone. While caregivers kept her company and she received phone calls and occasional visits from her children and grandchildren, her zest for life seemed extinguished.
After coming to stay with us, she felt more and more at home and has since decided to sell her home of 50 years and live with us. Over the course of a year and a half, I looked for ways to bring moments of joy to her days.
For Christmas, I made her an Advent calendar filled with surprises. Normally we think of Advent countdowns for children, but why couldn’t it be something fun for the grownups? She kindly protested, saying she did not need me to go through all the trouble. However, I had fun making the gingerbread house boxes and bags and looking for items and activities to include. The bonus – the smile on her face when she opened her daily surprise.
One surprise I almost did not include because I thought she might think it too childish was a bottle of bubbles to blow. I don’t know who had more fun – my mother-in-law blowing the bubbles or me witnessing the joy of a simple moment. Had I given in to my internal censor, we both would have missed this booster shot of endorphins.
A Daily Commitment
When it comes to our creative spirits, we need to be willing to appear foolish, willing to take a risk, willing to try something out of the ordinary. We need to find ways to let in the sun so that we can better use our talents.
Lincoln persevered through his melancholy by relying on humor and on his faith. He firmly believed he was called to a greater purpose, that he had meaningful work to do. Hence, if we are to proceed with the meaningful work we are called to, we must take every measure to do so, and that includes keeping up our spirits. Together, let’s start a list of ways to incorporate humor and joy into our days.
To get us started, I recommend a scavenger hunt. When was the last time you participated in one?
When my children were younger, I created a scavenger hunt of things to look for and do while on our trip to Italy. I formatted the list to look like a passport booklet to help them keep track. I had made some extras in case one was lost. My mother-in-law used one of these to play along as well.
Scavenger hunts are a fun way to explore. What if these searches can be repurposed to spark the creative spirit in each of us, to tickle our inner child? You can use it as an activity with family and friends of all ages. You can even use it to spark ideas for a different type of project. Once you start the planning process, you’ll be surprised at your flow of ideas.