12 Ways to Find Joy in 2021

As the pandemic and stay-at-home orders continue

Image by United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash
Image by United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash

1. Carry the Candle for Ruth Bader Ginsberg

That marvelous, force-to-be-reckoned-with did not do all that work for us to stay in bed, scroll through our phones, and say, “This year can just suck it.” We can be enraged, we can be terrified, we can be devastated, but we cannot be hopeless. We just can’t afford to be, not with the state of the world. We have to fight to make it better. We have to call our reps. We have to talk to each other. We can even volunteer remotely! But we have to believe things can get better. If we don’t, we give up. If we give up, we die. I think we’ve had enough deaths in this last year. So let’s not choose that.

2. Find a Semblance of Normality

I have found that visiting anchors of my pre-Covid world makes my whole day better. Things like getting a cappuccino from my favorite coffee shop and catching up with the owners (with masks, 6 ft away) or having game nights with friends (over Zoom) make my whole day so much brighter. They aren’t the same, but it’s like using stevia for sugar. Not the same, but still sweet and hits the spot. Find your anchors- they make everything easier.

3. Slow Down on Doom Scrolling

Doom scrolling is the best. It validates why we feel so sad and lost. But it also perpetuates it. Reading those terrible headlines, feeling enraged at our current government, scrolling through Facebook comment thread fights- we get off on it. And rightly so. Because it’s stupidly validating. And also, with the exception of Facebook drama, it’s our civic duty to be engaged in what is happening in the world. But I’ve found that as long as I’m aware of what’s happening, giving myself a little distance from social media and every new headline flung my way does wonders for my mental health. If we can absorb the terrible stuff out there just a little bit less consistently, and maybe limit our nightly scrolling time to say Pinterest or some other app without news (or better yet, a book!), I think we’d be surprised at how much more energy we have to fight, reflect, and get through our days with much more ease.

4. If You’re Unemployed, Bored, and/or Sad- Find a Goal.

I’m mostly talking to folks who have the privilege of staying at home and aren’t on full time hospital/parent/teacher/front lines duty. Because honestly there are so many people who the idea of a “goal” or “finding the silver lining” is a cruel joke: “Oh, in between working from home 9–5 on Zoom and then trying to be a good partner/parent right after? Oh cool I’ll get right on that. Right after finishing the funeral arrangements for my sister.” To everyone in the midst of an overwhelming amount of responsibility and tragedy, I have the utmost respect for you and please tell me to shut the hell up right now.

Image by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

5. Move Your Body

Ah, 2020. The year we all gained twenty (or more). Between depressed Netflix binges and the whole world moving to Zoom, getting up to get a glass of water felt like a marathon. But for better or worse, our minds and bodies are inextricably linked. The less we move, the less endorphins we get, the more our brain chemistry gets out of balance, the more we want to do nothing and die.

6. Find Things to Do OFF Screen

Yes, the whole world has moved to Zoom. If we want to make money, or see family, or be entertained in any way, a screen is, unfortunately, the answer. While hacks like “Cut your screen time in half!” feel far fetched, I think a more doable goal is just finding a couple of things per day that don’t require a screen. Take a walk. Make masks for your family. Go camping. Smother your cat. Clean out your closet. Make a recipe from an index card shoved in the back of your Pinterest board.

Image by Image by Heather Ford on Unsplash

7. Get Out of Victim Mode

And figure out what’s next for you. Again, I’m not talking to those who have just lost someone or whose lives are melting down. Mourn, be sad, cry in your bed every chance you get. Let yourself do what you need.

8. Find One Mental Health Thing to Do Every Day

If meditating is your thing, awesome! But if not, that’s cool too. Caring for your mind goes beyond classic, zen practices. It’s about finding a thing that calms your brain and helps you feel okay. Maybe that’s a jog with your dog. Maybe it’s playing records and cooking. Maybe it’s coloring in an adult (or children’s) coloring book. Just find the thing that allows your brain time to decompress and lets your heart feel a little bit lighter.

9. Take a Historical Perspective

This is not the first pandemic. Or the first time the world has been severely scarred by a terrifying government, natural disasters, or the loss of great leaders. While the build up of all of these things makes it seem like 2020 was the cursed year that will make or break the rest of life forever and ever, that’s simply not true. More people will die. More homes will burn. More pain and suffering will ensue. And I’m not saying any of this lightly. It’s beyond devastating. But the world will rebound. As the world always has.

10. Take a Break From Alcohol

Ah 2020, the year we all became alcoholics. I know that for myself drinking creeps up in the sneakiest ways- would I like a pre-dinner cocktail? Sure! Would a glass of wine go well with reading on the porch? Absolutely. Should we have rum and cokes with our movie night? Shake ’em up! A drink can be a lovely companion to nearly every activity, especially at a time when most of us are usually home and have nowhere to go.

Image by Wesual Click on Unsplash

11. Find a Great Therapist

A fantastic therapist is a game-changer. An unbiased professional who can give you practical tools to navigate the year from hell and your plans going forward is an unequivocal pathway to joy. If you have health insurance, go on their website and see what providers your insurance covers. Call up that list and see if they have any openings! If you don’t have coverage, it’s still possible to find a therapist. Many therapists will work with you on pricing or payment plans, and many non-profits have counseling services available as well.

12. Don’t be Committed to Being Grumpy

Over this last year, I found myself trying to figure out some new goals. I work in the performing arts, and my industry got all but shut down. So I started to think, what were my other goals over the years? As I tried to connect to those goals, I didn’t feel inspired or excited. I felt devastated by all that’s happened in the world, and just… grumpy. At best. I was annoyed at everything and everyone. I didn’t feel like catching up with folks. I didn’t want to hear how good or bad they were faring. I’d try to get revved up to start working on stuff… and then I’d feel even more annoyed. And then angry, and then sad.

Image by United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash

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Writer, Coffee Lover, Cat Mom. Writer for Society19 & @thriveglobal. Sign up for my mailing list: https://tinyletter.com/ashanoeliyer

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Asha Noel Iyer

Writer, Coffee Lover, Cat Mom. Writer for Society19 & @thriveglobal. Sign up for my mailing list: https://tinyletter.com/ashanoeliyer