Chantelle Leswell ‘20J | Staff Writer
We’re getting to that point in the semester where the first round of big assignments are hitting, the melting snow is leaving slush piles and black ice is everywhere. And is it just me, or is the big hole in the middle of campus getting bigger? For some of us, resolve may already be slipping. That doesn’t mean we can’t push through, but wouldn’t it be sweet if the semester wasn’t just about surviving? Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness,” puts it bluntly: “It’s equally important to investigate wellness as it is to study misery.” That’s worth pausing over. Holding both of these parts of the human condition with equal importance forces us to confront our self-concepts and how we act in our daily lives. My theory is that, generally, we wallow a little too much in the “misery” camp when we ought to be erring on the side of wellness, and leaning into moments of joy can really start to optimize our wellbeing.
I’m just going to be clear, I truly love Marie Kondo and her methods, but the word “joy” has really started to lose its meaning to me since it’s been on everyone’s tongues so much over the past month. My goal is to remind myself — and you — what purpose joy serves in our lives. As I’m writing this, I’m realizing how hard it is to encapsulate exactly what “joy” means, how our brain utilizes it and how exactly it fits into this lofty idea of “wellness” that we so often toy around with. Joy, to me, is something unadulterated, wholesome and authentic; it happens often when we are most vulnerable, and it creates new ways of thinking about the world that allows us to ultimately be more open-minded and susceptible to positive thought patterns.
That explanation sounds a bit lofty, too. Perhaps we can think about it like this: Moments of joy are the building blocks of sustained happiness. If we are most vulnerable when we are truly joyful, then we are most amenable to change during that time too. Of course, I can’t assert that what makes me joyful will do the same for you, but I’ve found that there are around four main categories of practices we can partake in to bolster our overall happiness: helping and supporting others, taking care of your physical wellness, nurturing your “inner child” and actively working towards goals. None of this is new, but nonetheless, they are important. Of course, this is by no means comprehensive, and although there is no guarantee these four things will be groundbreaking to your happiness, they seem to be strongly correlated with a slew of mood-boosting effects.
At Smith, I know it’s not always easy to stop and practice mindfulness everyday, and maybe it’s difficult to get to the gym when you’d like, particularly in these cold months, but I know that within and aside from the categories I outlined above, there are so many small ways to tap into our reserves of joy (read: serotonin). One of my favorites, like Michelle Wong ’19 outlined last week in “Eradicating Smith culture,” is smiling at people I pass by on campus. It takes me out of my comfort zone and has the potential to brighten up someone else’s day, too. I also really think stretching is underrated in its ability to make us more comfortable, relaxed and prepared for the day (or for sleep). I’m a big fan of walking in the woods, or weather permitting, taking a boat onto the Mill River. It doesn’t really matter what precise practices I enjoy or what I recommend on campus to make the day a little more pleasant. Rather, my message is that, yes, it’s very easy to get bogged down by the mundane and, sometimes, the outright pain on this campus and in life, but pausing to enjoy our own interiority—particularly when we’re feeling vulnerable—is the key to not just getting through the day, week and semester, but to truly thriving and understanding the power we exert over ourselves in the process.