A moment of truth: One of the Self-Care practices I’ve struggled the most to embrace is doing something that brings me joy without it having any other productive or useful outcome.
I love bold colors, crazy rings, and clothes with an edge to them. I wear bright yellow outfits when I speak and pair them with sparkly sneakers or two mismatched neon yellow and pink ones. It brings me joy, and I love seeing how it brings other people joy. (When was the last time you saw a speaker run out on stage wearing neon yellow everything? That’s joy, right there.)
But for most of my life, I denied myself the joy of wearing stuff that made me happy. I made up a story that this was about money: “Cool clothes cost money, and I don’t want to waste money on silly stuff like that.” This story worked well because as a refugee, I’ve always had a fear of running out of money, even after working at well-paying jobs for decades. It also fit nicely with my bigger story about life being a struggle—I denied myself this little joy and that confirmed to me that there was little joy in life.
But my story was total BS because it doesn’t take a lot of money to find clothes that make you happy or fun and colorful costume jewelry I now love so much. My story about money was a distraction. I simply didn’t feel that I deserved to experience joy. I hadn’t done enough to earn it.
What story is your brain using to convince you to deny yourself joy?
Is there a number on the scale you need to hit before you can buy yourself a fun new outfit?
Does your house need to be perfectly cleaned before you can sit down and drink some tea while you read a book?
Are you not supposed to “waste time” on doing stuff that brings you joy unless you’ve checked off every single thing from your mile-long to-do list?
Does everyone around you need to feel good before you give yourself permission to do something that brings you joy?
Take a moment and get honest about your joy denial story. Does denying yourself joy help you be a more Awesome Human, colleague, leader, parent, or friend?
No. Because joy isn’t frivolous or extra. It’s an essential, meaningful, and important part of the human experience and precious energy fuel that keeps you going and helps you to do difficult things and stuff you just really don’t want to do but you know your future self would benefit from it.
Excerpted from The Awesome Human Project: Break Free from Daily Burnout, Struggle Less, and Thrive More in Work and Life by Nataly Kogan.