The Joyletter

If not joy, then joy's direction

Published over 1 year ago • 6 min read

Hi Reader,

It's been a wild week.

There was the vacation that (almost) didn't happen. The home improvement project that ran three days over schedule. And some long drives with the kiddo that always seemed perfectly timed to the exact middle of a snowstorm.

When we had to put our vacation on hold, it felt like we were dropped into survival mode: every ounce of energy was going toward just getting through the day. Then, when late in the week we were freed up, we had a choice to make. Did we have it in us to try to go away and salvage some of our vacation? Or should we just stay put, conserve energy, and rest?

The practical choice felt clear. We were already exhausted, crabby, and stressed. Going away seemed like a surefire way to push ourselves over our limit. But...

"We need some joy," said Albert. And he was right.

We were only away for three days, but those days were magic. There were waffles with whipped cream and pizza munched in the car, snowballs and sledding, an expedition to a tiny bookstore and even an unheard of 8am toddler sleep-in.

And even though we were coming back to the same challenges we'd left, we were more energized and more hopeful about getting through them.

Sometimes joy looks like the harder path, but in the end, it's the easier one.

When you're in a tough spot, it's easy to think you should just conserve energy until you get through it. But often a little fun or a change of pace helps jolt you out of survival mode and restore your sense of optimism.

Also in this edition: an absolutely mega list of ways to feel grounded when emotions are running high, some joyful snippets of what I've been reading and watching lately, and One Thing to help when joy is hard to find.


One Thing

If not joy, then joy's direction.

This idea comes from a post I read recently by Harper Jones, who coined it during a particularly bleak winter in his life, involving an acrimonious divorce, unemployment, the loss of his house, and a child's mental illness. He writes:

If you can’t be happy, then put yourself in the path of things that will make you happy — books to read, or places to go, or put yourself in the company of people you like even if you don’t feel like going, even if you’ll sit sour and quiet in a corner. Sometimes these directions are clear, and sometimes they take some thinking, but sometimes chasing after things that might make you happy when you’ve forgotten what those things are is enough in itself.

If joy feels unavailable right now, that's ok. Ask yourself: what's one thing I can do to move in joy's direction?

In Search of: Ways to Calm Down

I lost my sh*t this week. I'm pretty level-headed most of the time and have a good sense of perspective but every now and then something tips me over the edge.

What I noticed in that moment was that none of the things that work for more garden variety anxiety were at all effective. Deep breathing? Nope. Going for a walk? Tried it, and stewed the whole time. Thinking kind thoughts? I suddenly couldn't find a single one. So, I asked you: what helps you feel grounded when you're feeling highly overwhelmed or activated?

And you came THROUGH. The answers are so good and so varied. I didn't realize there were so many different ways to bring yourself down from an activated state. I learned about a lot of new techniques, some of which are evidence-based, and I've linked out to some of these here. I also heard from a lot of you who said that you were struggling with this too, so I hope this list helps you find something new for your tough day toolkit!

  • Close your mouth. My therapist gave me this one, turns out it's a lot harder to panic with a closed 👄 — Anais
  • I have a special pocket-sized smooth rock that I carry in my purse to hold in my hands. — Keela
  • 54321 grounding exercise pulls me to the present and calms me down. — Tal (I love this simple technique for grounding through the five senses. It seems like it is often taught to children as a regulation technique as well.)
  • Laying on the floor - so grounding — Kennedy
  • Easy sudoku, logic puzzles, crosswords! A cognitive task forces my brain to shift gears. — Mal
  • Have you seen fufuly? Dying to try one... heard it really resets your breathing. — Beth (This is a cute pillow that expands and contracts as if breathing. Seems like it was invented in Japan! If you try this one, please report back.)
  • A fast walk outside at night and I let myself cry. The darkness makes it feel like a private walk. — Megan
  • I cry, a physical cry, not emotional. Releases the pressure just enough. — Paola
  • Headache hat! It's like an ice pack for your head. So cold, so soothing, it centers me. — Olena
  • Water! The ocean, a lake, river, pond, hell even a little fountain can help me focus and recenter. — Keri
  • TIPP skills - taking a cold shower or holding ice cubes is my favorite. — Courtney (A lot of people wrote about using cold and this is the source. TIPP is a set of techniques from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, that use physical sensations to bring down the intensity of your emotions. T stands for temperature. Other examples are putting cold water on your wrists or plunging your face into cold water.)
  • Sounds bizarre but I start doing push ups until I'm physically spent. — Kandy (This is related to the I of TIPP: Intense exercise. Others recommend 20 jumping jacks, or jump squats with punches.)
  • Walking barefoot in the grass. — Nat
  • Recently learned and can confirm: relaxing the back of the tongue helps with mental overwhelm. — Ali
  • Inhaling my children. They are not babies and don't smell "good" but 🤷🏼‍♀️ — Kylie (I wonder if it's more about familiarity than a "nice" smell. Ties in to other responses about turning to the senses for comfort.)
  • EFT tapping! — Megan
  • Views from up high. — Hilary
  • Ask myself if I've eaten recently. — Heather
  • Saying "I can deal with this" repeatedly in my head — Sophie
  • Lay on the floor and put my legs up the wall — Natalie
  • A looooooong hug from my husband. Long enough to bring me back down. — Laurelin (Physical touch stimulates the production of ocytocin, which is associated with the "tend and befriend" stress response, which involves seeking social support and may be more adaptive than fight or flight.)
  • I actually try to do something, rather than relaxing things. Like a productive / active task. — Anya
  • Random shaking hands, legs, twisting, sort of like shaking the intense emotions off. — Alenka
  • I use a Dammit Doll. Gets out the pent up energy quickly so I can calm / focus. — Jennifer (Did not know this was a thing!)
  • NVC List of Needs has helped me so much! Once I understand what I need I calm down. — Julie
  • When I am past the point of being able to regulate myself, I have to shut myself in a silent room alone. — Meagan
  • Big primal growl/yell. Just AHHHHHHH! — Zerkelsmith
  • Eating a sour candy or something spicy also helps. — Aviva
  • Counting colors. Pick one and find everything around you in the color. — Christine
  • Pressure on my body! Weighted blanket, pillows on my head, etc. — Brooke
  • Make a list of things that need to be done with the first task labeled as "make a list" ✔️ — Adriane (Have I done this one? Oh yes, yes I have.)

Joyful Snippets

This Indigo Girls Tiny Desk Concert was 22 mins of pure, nostalgic joy for me.

To stave off the late winter doldrums, I'm welcoming the return of the lovely Masterpiece interpretation of All Creatures Great and Small, and revisiting some favorite gentle shows from this post.


But it struck me recently, while lying in a puddle of soft, loving bodies, listening to peals of laughter and feeling as happy as I’ve ever felt in my life, that in so desperately fighting for something better, I had forgotten to adequately name what I’m fighting for. To properly spell out the sheer joy and beauty and love that forms the core of what parenthood is. The shape of a toddler’s foot, so puffy and perfect. The first time you hear your baby’s unbridled, spontaneous laughter. The little hand that reaches for you on a walk. The way my kids cackle when I pretend to faint because of their stinky feet. The whispered stories of their day at bedtime, that’s the real language we all share. I don’t want those parts to get lost in the story I’m telling about what it feels like to be a parent right now.

- Amil Niazi on the good parts of parenting

This past thanksgiving, I asked my mother how old she was in her head. She didn’t pause, didn’t look up, didn’t even ask me to repeat the question, which would have been natural, given that it was both syntactically awkward and a little odd. We were in my brother’s dining room, setting the table. My mother folded another napkin. “Forty-five,” she said.
She is 76.

- Jennifer Senior, in a truly awesome piece about the age we feel in our heads

Mood: No Relaxing!

Quote of the Week

"The body seems to feel beauty when exposed to it as it feels the campfire or sunshine, entering not by the eyes alone, but equally through all one's flesh like radiant heat."

- John Muir

The Joyletter

by Ingrid Fetell Lee

Designer, bestselling author, and founder of the School of Joy. I help people find more joy in life and work through design. Join more than 45,000 readers who receive our weekly treasure trove of science-backed tips, delightful discoveries, and inspiration for living a better life.

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