by Max Sirak
As we approach the end of the year, it’s that time again. Not to flip the page to the next month, but to buy a new calendar. (Who am I kidding? It’s probably only me and your grandmother who still uses paper wall calendars…) And also to reflect.
I learned a lot in 2018. I learned about how the genealogy of Batman can be traced to Alexander Dumas. I learned about the importance of taking ownership of our emotional reactions. But, by far, the most important thing I learned was the importance of not growing up.
It’s not that I have anything against being an adult. Working, making money, buying stuff, and maybe owning the place you live are all fine and good, I guess. But after doing these things for a while, I realized I was feeling pretty empty inside.
These things, which mean so much to so many and most seem to organize their lives around, didn’t do it for me. They didn’t satisfy me. And the more I tried to fake it, the more I tried to buy in and force myself to care about these things that practically everyone else seemed to be completely absorbed in – the worse I felt.
Until one night, toward the beginning of September, when I stumbled back into joy.
Now, when I say joy, I mean that unbridled, exhilarating, fundamental force that bubbles up from within and makes your soul sing. Call it passion or energy or the creative impulse or whatever words you like. What you call it matters far, far less than that you feel it.
And at first, when I did feel it, I didn’t know what to make of it. It’d been so long, it’s like I’d all but forgotten how coming into contact with this force felt. But I knew I liked it. And I knew it’d been missing. So began my quest to find more.
The fist step of my journey started by paying attention to my internal state. I mean, really paying attention to the way doing things affected my body. And, it was through this focus on the subtle body and my responses to the things I did, I had my revelation:
I felt the most joy when I did things that made me feel like a kid again.
Working backward from this insight, I realized what I’d done. I made the mistake of thinking “growing up” necessarily meant “growing out.” And, in the process of becoming an adult, I’d jettisoned too much of what I used to en-joy, to the point there wasn’t any left.
Reconnecting to Joy
As I’ve been saying, there’s a connection between youth and joy. It’s like joy is the co-pilot of youth and I think on some sort of instinctual level we all know this. I posit this is why lots of people love smiling babies.
Kids, in their non-meltdown state, are like little joy-lights. This, along with evolutionary biology and how good making them feels, is a major reason why people have kids. Children are a way to invite more joy into our lives.
I’ve watched many a friend choose this path. Young parents glow with residual light as they get to tag-a-long in their child’s experience of discovery. Older parents are equally luminous when telling tales about their child entering the world and making their way.
New love is another onramp to joy. A college friend of mine got engaged last week. We caught up for a long overdo chat. He was electric. The joy palpably poured off of him.
But here’s the thing – having a kid and/or falling in love are big, disruptive life events. And, if radically reorganizing your priorities and lifelong commitment are what you’re into, then I say have at. These are tried and true avenues to court more joy. But it’s not as though these are the only paths. There’re others.
Below are handful I discovered. Spoors for you to follow, should you choose…
Playing games is one place I turned. It didn’t matter if the games were analog or digital, a group activity or a solo endeavor. Both allowed access to joy.
As an only child, the 8-bit Nintendo I got in second grade, when it first was released in the States, was like a self-contained entertainment epiphany. This makes me a part of the first cohort to have been exposed to video games from an early age.
Video games were definitely something I thought I had to let go of when I became an adult. So I stopped playing them. And guess what? When I started again, there were times I literally sat down in front my computer and giggled and clapped my hands with delight.
Going to see live music is another. This joy-full route is one I’d regularly walked since I was a teenager. But then, at some point around turning 30, I sort of just stopped. I guess I decided spending the resources to go to concerts was irresponsible. There were better, more appropriate uses for time and money.
Next – plant medicine. At some point, in college, I discovered I liked drugs. Not all of them and certainly not all the time. But every once in a while, popping a couple caps and stems from a trusted source, is more or less magical. This is something else I ceased because “adults” don’t do these types of things.
Sex is another. Not that I thought adults didn’t have sex, but I was always under the impression my desires and love of this type of physical connection were something I was supposed to grow out of. Like wanting to touch and be touched was some sort of infantile impulse, not fit for full-grown adulthood. But guess what? Provided it’s consensual and safe, there’s a lot of joy to be found through sex.
Feed What Feeds You
Look – I don’t mean to be up on my soapbox preaching sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll (I reversed the order…), this countercultural trio just happens to be what worked for me. The better take away here has to do with joy.
Please – take a break from your regularly scheduled super-busy all-important adult programming.
Use this time instead to make choices and do things that put in you contact with joy.
Learn from my mistakes.
Everything from your past isn’t teddy bears and training wheels.
You don’t have to grow out of what works.
This year, my gift to you – regardless of what you celebrate – is one that truly keeps on giving, permission to go do something that makes you feel like a kid again.
Max ghostwrites books and is forever grateful to the good folks at 3qd. You can find him here if you’re so inclined.
Thank you, Rachel “Empress of Art” Bender for your contribution.