Joy does not have to be an intense experience. Cultivating an awareness of “okayness” is a valid path to well-being. In fact, unamplified states of gratitude and appreciation for the “little things” in life goes a long way to de-stressing the system, and allowing the body and mind to restore.
I think it is a part of the human condition to strive for intensity of feelings; a way of creating a narrative of grandness and transcendence that rises above the “normal”, the “mundane” or “average”. It is born out of a numbness to routine, and a sort of blanking out of the repetitive or regular, much like retinal fatigue or the numbness from rubbing an earlobe. Society’s highest expectations and rewards are given to those living the most outrageous and intense lives, and we all have embraced this paradigm as a judgment on how we measure up. You know, the “star” factor.
Modern psychologists would chalk these attitudes up to bad mental health, and here’s why: Most of what happens to us in our daily lives certainly is unremarkable, and yet we seem to measure our joy factor or happiness factor by how intense our perceptions are as we put a priority on extreme events.
We’ve all heard people say, “It was really dangerous, but I’ve never felt so alive.” The reality of this is that if this danger you speak of that was making you feel so alive just kept going without respite, the stress of it would certainly kill you.
Another aspect to this is finding fault with experiences, judging them as “boring” or “monochromatic” or “disappointing” in some way. It’s a mind set that has an expectation of intensity that sets a standard against which all experience must measure up. This is validated with TV dramas, big movie adventures, and sweeping novels–all stimulating our nervous systems and exacerbating our sense of the extreme. Our lives by comparison certainly become dull.
Everything Science tells us about the human mind-body system is that excitement, danger, peak experiences, are all stressful to the body; causing the restorative systems to shut down, the adrenaline flight or fight systems to ramp up, leading to cell damage and oxidative stress injuries. The life of the adrenaline junkie is certain to be shorter and less satisfying over the long term.
As an alternative approach, start to become aware of these conditions:
- At this moment, nothing hurts
- Right now, I am not upset, and I’m not suffering
- Nothing is actually bothering me at this moment
- I don’t really need anything right now
- I’m fine with the way things are right now
- I’m grateful for just being able to be
- I appreciate everything around me at this moment
When you start breaking it down like this, it becomes apparent that what is really causing any of your well-being and any of your happiness is happening at every moment. Lifting all the judgments about how we’re not living up some “superman” or “superwoman” intensity, allows us to become aware of and enjoy those small moments to ourselves, and allows these moments to rise to equal priority with moments of intensity.
I’m not saying one shouldn’t strive for something fantastic in their life, or plan big adventures. I’m saying that the time between the intensities of life is just as valuable, if not more so in terms of body repair and mental well-being. We tend to forget that this is important amidst all the bombardment of MMA fighting, 200 MPH car races, super-hero blockbusters, acid trips and rock star stadium concerts.
Just take a moment, to have a moment.