These last few weeks have been heavy for me – and for many of my friends, family and clients. It started with the release of 13 Reasons Why, and then real life happened after that – twice. And of course, when things such as suicide, mass shootings, or even mental health in general are in the news, my clients want to (and should) talk about them in session, so I’ve revisited these topics repeatedly.
Because some figures are larger than life, it can feel like a real loss to us when things like this happen.
But what I’ve been focused on is the overall picture. The overall joy of those around me – and whether or not it actually exists.
All around me – in the community I live, the area that I serve, the groups that I’m a part of – both online and off – people are just done. We are overworked, underpaid, burned out, stressed, overscheduled, tired, and just feel stuck in it.
Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash
There are times of fleeting happiness, but overall we live for the weekends and our vacations, where we can try to set aside our worries of our financial futures, medical problems, kids, work stress, and other responsibilities. But even during those times, often we are sucked into doing home maintenance, kid’s extracurricular activities, and other things that are just a continuation of our routine.
We “fit in” things and people that bring us true joy, or that contribute in any way to the enjoyment of our lives, instead of prioritizing those things over the every day hustle to get things done.
We’ve learned to build our lives around things instead of people. Because of the culture that we grow up in, we’ve learned to value having greater, bigger, more than the person next to us. And in the meantime, those great, bigger, and more things tie us into lives and responsibilities that are – most of the time – overwhelming to keep up with.
We have learned to value quick and convenient rather than slowing down to truly experience something. We rush from one place to the next, to the next, without taking the time to grow from what we see and the people that we meet.
We can no longer have productive conversations with other people that disagree with us, because we value being right over being kind. We value being heard over listening. We value our personal standards over learning.
Not all of these things may fit for everyone – but overall, this is the culture that we currently sit in.
In my previous career, I worked as a business analyst, and I would walk with people through their day-to-day jobs and systems, finding and correcting the things that were inefficient so that their process could improve.
So often, even when what they were doing didn’t make any sense to them, I would get resistance any time a change was suggested.
Because “this is how we’ve always done it.” It drove me insane.
What if the way that we’ve always done life – the way we have learned to do it – is making us more depressed, anxious, and stagnant than ever before? At what point do we step back to figure out where we could make changes?
Joy comes from knowing who you are, and what you value, and living a life that is congruent to what you believe in.
If you know who you are, and you are someone who values time with your family over anything else – then why on average do you spend the least amount of time with those people that you say that you value?
If you know who you are, and you are someone who values independent thought and learning – then why on average do you spend your time doing the same things over and over again each week instead of engaging in independent thought and learning?
As a therapist, people come to me often when they realize that the choices in their lives aren’t serving them for one reason or another. Often, it’s when they can’t see how to get from the life they’ve built to the life that they actually want. Usually that happens when we have spent our time living out other people’s values - what we think we are "supposed to" do.
Our culture’s values don’t always (or even often) match with the life that we want to live. But when it is all we know, it can take a lot of time and energy to recognize that, and begin to unlearn the values that we have been taught and identify and prioritize our own.
The first step to doing this is to slow down. Slowing down is most often the step that people miss, or that is so scary to try in our fast-paced society, that they skip right over it.
But if we can slow down and take time to actually notice the life that is happening around us, we can begin to see that it isn’t greater, bigger, or more things that bring us joy.
Slowing down allows us to be present in the current moment – to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell the world we are in. This requires us to be intentional with our thoughts and actions, and keep them from fleeing to the next thing, which is the opposite of the way that our world pushes us.
What are your goals for this life? Are they directed by the things that you value, or are they directed by things you want to have?
Need more support than what a blog post will give you? Are you tired of doing things the way they've always been done, and ready to begin to cultivate joy in your life? Want to learn more about how you can get rid of those lonely feelings and dig deeper in your relationships? Contact me here to learn more about my services.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor serving South Carolina. She provides relationship and identity counseling online for busy moms and professionals. You can read more about her here.