Life can be difficult. Even normal, usual, average days can take a lot of effort that you expend, and I expend, constantly. Often enough, “the daily grind” leaves me feeling drained and overwhelmed and devoid of all good humor. Depleted of any warm feeling toward my fellow man, it can seem easiest to offer my worst to the people around me.
Avoiding being a literal bear, at least for me, frequently requires making a conscious decision to spread joy and minimize the negativity literally oozing out of my pores. There are a few ways I help myself to make that decision, fostering a happiness within myself to spread and benefit those in my social milieu.
Take Your Shoes Off
Okay, there are a lot of instances when it is entirely socially unacceptable to literally take your shoes off, but this is one of my favorite things to physically do (when socially appropriate) and also one of my favorite analogies.
The sensation of being barefoot has always been a literal and metaphorical representation of becoming grounded for me. When I start to feel overwhelmed, I like to take a moment to go mentally barefoot; I remove all the trimmings and trappings and sink my toes into the earth and get back to basics. I breathe. I take stock of my surroundings: what do I see, hear, smell, feel, taste, touch? I ask: what three things do I have in this moment for which to be grateful? And to whom?
It might seem silly, but this little mental exercise never fails to put me into a positive mindset.
Consider Your Impact
We’re pack animals at the heart of our being. As people, we live in community and in relation to one another. This is evidenced, I think, most clearly by the fact that in almost any culture one studies, isolation is a popular form of punishment.
With that in mind, my grandfather used to say that “good manners cost nothing and gain everything.” I’ve always found the same to be true with general congeniality and pleasantness. It costs me absolutely nothing to smile at the checkout person at the grocery store, and yet, a smile or a kind word directed at me have frequently turned my entire day around. I love, love, love to pay that forward.
Very concretely, I make sure to consciously and purposefully treat myself to one thing every day. This gift takes many forms: it could be a baked good, or a nap, or a half an hour where I turn off my phone and take a little retreat for myself.
Now, the key word with this practice is “consciously.” I think often, when we do something nice for ourselves, it comes with a sense guilt: “I shouldn’t have this cookie, I’m cheating on my diet,” or “I can’t take a nap, I have other things I could be doing.” This kind of reluctant attitude spoils entirely the small pleasure we intend to gift ourselves, and then it is no gift at all. When I treat myself, the attitude is, and must be: “this is a small love token, from me, to me; I deserve it, and I’ll be the better for it.”
It’s taken me years to realize that taking care of yourself really does go a long way to taking care of others. Being at your best enables you to give your best to the people around you.