We are multi-sensory human beings, never forget that. We take in stimulation from our outer world through our senses. internalise it, creating meaning from it. This year, which was characterised by varying levels of lockdown and loss of autonomy, made me acutely aware of my own humanity, need for others and sensory input. I started to wake up to the meaning of joy and experiencing joy no matter what.
When you are not allowed to go outside, when you are cut off from other human beings, when you can’t do what you want to do when you want to do it, you start valuing what you do have in a different way. Big and small experiences are there to colour our lives, creating context and meaning.
Joy can be found in the smallest of things if you are open to seeing and experiencing them. During the holiday season I encourage you to use your five senses to identify things that bring you joy and cherish them. Here are some examples.
What feast are you giving to your eyes today? Can you intentionally look at the world around you and find both big and little things to look at that give you a sense of joy? I think it is so important to help our brains to shift gears as part of our stress management strategy. When we look at new things, say a different view, or when you discover joy in spotting small things that you usually don’t notice, it shifts your brain AND it feeds your soul.Never forget the importance of FEELING some kind of joy when you look at things. It’s a form of connection – with yourself and the world around you. Spotting and feeling joy has been very much part of my journey through 2020, whether that joy is generated by the people I see, nature, experiences or objects in my life.
Right now, I have the privilege of looking across the beautiful Knysna lagoon. I am filled with joy as the view changes with the weather and the tide, moment by moment. This is so different to my normal garden view in Johannesburg, which I also love. Don’t forget the small things too – they are VERY important. Today it was picking a single Hibiscus flower to put in my Mum and Dad’s room. They arrive tomorrow to join me. There was joy in seeing it on the bush in situ and then putting it in a vase and placing it in their bedroom.
Before I left Jo’burg I experienced so much joy laying the table for a pre-Christmas lunch and picking succulents from the garden, placing single ones in old-fashioned champagne glasses and using them for table décor. Those same succulents make my soul sing after the rain or early in the morning when they catch the dew which looks like large, vibrant crystals between the leaves – only there for a short while until they dry up in the heat of the sun.
Let me know what you see with your eyes that gives you joy right now. Feel free to share a picture if you want to or drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We often forget that the skin is the biggest sensory organ in the body. I couldn’t wait to walk on the beach and feel the sand between my toes and feel the waves lapping at my feet – this simple act evoked such a sense of joy. I am looking forward to feeling the wind blowing through my hair when I am on a boat soon.
On a regular day, I always love the feel of green grass under my feet. A good stress reliever is to make sure you get your feet onto some grass every day for a few minutes – without shoes. It’s very grounding and calming. I walked through a marshy area in Knysna the other day which is covered in succulents that just spring back after you have walked on them. Now that felt so different to grass but really reviving. Stress balls, playdough, a ball of prestick and even baking biscuits is so satisfying in a deep, sensory way too.
Don’t forget the stress relief in the sense of touch. That’s why we love a bath or shower so much. In fact creative thoughts often happen in the shower when you are having a fully emersive body experience including the water pouring over your head. I am heading off to the shops to get myself some bath crayons to use in the shower so I can connect ideas for a new book I am writing.
What are you doing that celebrates and stimulates your sense of touch? Let me know.
Smell evokes emotional reactions very quickly. The smell of my Mum making fudge for Christmas triggers an anticipation of wonderful family celebrations and so much joy. The smell of marinaded meat caramelising on a braai gets my taste buds going, and what about the aroma of coffee in a restaurant – even though I don’t drink coffee? Then there’s the trademark smell of particular people in your life, like your mum or dad, your husband or wife.
Did you know that children need to be physically close enough to their parents for at least 10 minutes a day to feel a sense of safety and security that comes from the sense of smell? My niece tells me every time she wears an article of clothing I have given her that was mine, no matter how often it has been washed, it smells like me! We underestimate the power of smell on the state of our head and heart.
What smells conjure up feelings of joy for you?
Sounds can also help us change our state of mind and emotions. Thumping, repetitive music irritates me, while listening to the waves crash on a beach soothes me and fills me with joy. Tone of voice is something we underestimate. Think about some favourite radio presenters and their voices. You know how we say, so and so has a real radio voice? Who does it for you?
I listened to Deepak Chopra’s Abundance Meditation series last year and then listened to a new series on hope this year. I loved his voice and the soothing background music and nature sounds in the first series and really didn’t connect to the second, as his voice was not nearly as soothing and neither were the background sounds. I aborted the mission because it brought me no joy.
On another note, I love Christmas carols and really dine out on them during December. They bring back wonderful family memories and make me feel happy and joyful. There is a time for silence too. It is important to connect with yourself and sometimes silence is necessary, as scary as it may seem. When last did you sit in silence, with no radio or TV on in the background, and by switching off all devices? It’s quite an unusual experience today. Maybe it’s one you should try? Do let me know how you use sound to change your emotional state?
Taste is closely aligned to smell but not quite the same. Memories with family and friends are made even stronger, more joyful and memorable if a tasty meal is involved. The more senses we use in any interaction the more memorable it will be. When young people go off to university out of town, the first thing they miss is the Sunday family braai or roast. It’s a combination of the tastes, smells and the people who were there.
We also get into a rut with what we eat and it’s refreshing to try new food and taste sensations to wake up your tastebuds. What I enjoy in the holiday season, is going through magazines and finding new recipes to try that I don’t usually have time to do during the year. What have you cooked or tasted recently that was unusual and made you light up inside?
Savour every mouthful of every meal you have this festive season, as well as the people you are fortunate to be sharing the meal with.
I hope you experience an abundance of joy in your life. Joy is like a positive energy fuel cell that helps you to recharge your battery. For a helpful exercise to help you reflect on, and let go of, 2020, click here for my Reflections of 2020 template.