Blank looks. Furrowed brows. Puzzled stares. “You want me to do what??”
These are the expressions on the faces of my clients when I give them the hardest homework assignment of our program: Write me a list of 100 things you love to do.
Whaaat? You’d think I’d just asked them to re-do their high school final exams.
Over and over I am struck by the irony of how this assignment catches everyone off guard … and how the initial response is resistance, even though having a bigger, more joyful life is why they sought me out.
Why is it so important?
Because, believe it or not, we are born to enjoy ourselves. We humans are specifically designed with a particular blueprint of gifts, talents, preferences, interests, capacities and innate abilities that want to be expressed through our very own Earth Suit.
What we do with them is up to us. But these innate gifts and interests are the building blocks of our soulwork. These pursuits bring us a sense of alignment, connection, value, growth, positive stimulation, pleasure, fulfillment, purpose and joy, whether we are making money doing them or not.
And in the space of figuring out how to pay the bills, take care of our families, maintaining our “stuff”, meeting others’ expectations, these interests get sidelined and relegated to “guilty pleasures” and our joy levels just shrivel up. Low-grade depression sets in.
I’ve learned that low-grade depression is the result of that Divine Impulse within us being continuously squashed. The opposite of depression is expression – which means living out that basic desire to be ourselves – doing what we enjoy doing because we enjoy it – not because we have to, but because we love to. When we make room to express these aspects of our being, we come alive.
And, for many of us, these soul-lifting activities are a foreign concept for a whole bunch of reasons. A big part of my work is unraveling the internal rules and blindspots that keep my clients from expressing themselves in ways that feel authentic and fulfilling.
These rules are numerous and complex, but there are several themes I can identify.
For some, it’s a cultural thing – it’s part of the traditional role of women and it’s simply expected “This is what women in our culture do – of course you enjoy it!” Or “What does enjoying it have to do with anything?”
For others, their parents and grandparents have sacrificed a great deal to provide a better opportunity for them and they feel enormous pressure to fulfill that generational dream – to be financially successful through prestigious careers. “Work hard and succeed” is the only mantra.
Others were raised on farms where hard physical work is a lifestyle. The land and animals need to be cared for and the chores are never-ending. The idea of leisure and pleasure is definitely on the bottom of the list.
Others are the children of religious zeal, where idleness is the work of the devil. My mother’s hands were always busy.
Others have been so focused on careers and “success” for so many years, they’ve just forgotten what they used to love to do and it all just feels so remote.
Some of us think if we aren’t the best at something, it can’t be our “thing” – bullshit. Enjoyment is key, not mastery. Just getting lost in something that makes us happy is such a gift.
Sometimes our pleasures are just habits we’ve taken on because we haven’t actually considered what we really want to do – we watch TV, we watch our kids do their activities, we might have one hobby that we swipe at from time to time.
Or we come up with activities that are “good for us”, like hot yoga, or running, or whatever our friends are doing. It becomes another thing we check off on our list. We might like it well enough, but we’re not really “feeling it.”
Some of us refer to these things on a possible list as a guilty pleasure. Why the guilt?? Some of us were shamed for our aberrant, lazy, boring, “unhealthy”, or “unproductive” pleasures – according to those who were raising us or the dictates of the current culture.
It’s a complex mix of reasons for each of us – but most of us have simply never given ourselves permission to consider what it is we enjoy – let alone – love – to do (and be). Reflecting on why we struggle to come up with 100 things we love to do can be illuminating and worthwhile indeed.
Beyond reflecting on why it’s hard to do, I challenge you to make a start on that list. Here are some tips to get you going:
- Start with the easy and obvious. Just get the pen moving!
- Be specific as you can. What type of crafts, painting, music, reading, video game, etc do you love to play with? There may be several of each.
- Pay attention to the things that catch your interest – what rabbit holes do you love to go down? What fascinates you? What magazines would you pick up from the reading rack?
- Check in with your senses: what feels good on your skin, in your mouth, to your nose, eyes and ears?
- Who do you admire for their skill and prowess in a certain arena? Would you like to try that too? Even if you’re not good at it?
- Where is your “happy place” and why?
- Who do you like spending time with? Why?
- What do you turn up on the radio? What podcasts do you like? What genre of movies, tv do you most prefer?
- What did you love to do as a kid if you were allowed to? Inside? Outside?
- What is the most fun thing you’ve ever done? Would you do it again?
- What classes and courses did you like the most in school? Why? (whether you excelled or not)
This is just the beginning. I could ask so many more questions, but the idea is to try things you are curious about, and see where it takes you! Dancing lessons, learning a new language, checking out a scotch tasting, donning cross-country skis … you get the idea … experiment. If you hate it, stop. If you like it, keep going!
The discovery of what brings you pleasure is the journey of discovering YOU … who you are, and why you are here … this list can lead you to discovering some of the mysterious elements that allow you to be who you are in this lifetime.
You were born to express these things, to learn and discover more, and play, play, play!!! It’s your birthright.
Once you’ve got a few things on that list … make a commitment to spend time actually doing something from the list once a day, week or month, depending on what it is. Find out who else is doing that thing (Meet Up, Eventbrite, and Facebook and other apps are good for this!) and go there!
And if you need help to unfurl your flag of joy – I am here. It’s why I am here … helping you discover fulfilling pleasure is on the very top of my list. Along with sitting in the sun, reading a delicious novel.
I will meet you there.