When we stop trying to find the solution, the solution finds us. The idea of “adding in the good stuff” is all the rage healthy living. Don’t worry about giving up cheese fries and soda. The pull of the food industry is powerful, and fighting it grinds our sense of efficacy down to sawdust. Instead, do a few leg lifts while brushing teeth. Put leafy greens beside whatever else is on the plate. Keep the focus on adding the wholesome.
This same bubbly counsel showed up in a recent parenting class. When an attendee began slipping down the shame spiral about their ineffective parenting, the instructor reminded us not to worry about what we’re doing wrong. “Do more of the good stuff,” she said. Put special time on the schedule. Focus on connection over correction.
Eventually (the theory goes) these little bits of goodness will crowd out the destructive patterns.
If this works with diet and family, why not mental health?
Maybe it’s worth abandoning for a little while those attempts to root out toxic habits. Identifying what’s wrong places our focus directly on those areas we are trying to avoid. The work saps us of our energy. Instead, we might try doing whatever brings a smile or a sense of peace or pleasure.
The challenge, of course, is remembering what those things are. A troubled mind is quite at home hooked into failure and its catalog of despair. It’s much easier to let the vision gallop 10 years into the future and see only a wasted landscape, one that is as much poisoned earth as it is personal collapse. A dark mood is like a scuffed dome closing in over sight and sense. All is warped and dulled.
How is a person — this person, of course, me — to build towards a functional future from under there? She’s not, of course. That monstrous screen is as much protector as prison. If she lifts it off, she’s free to grow. When she lifts it off, she’s called to grow.
On the bus ride to work this morning, I made a list. What activities available to me in everyday life contain a savor of the good stuff? What nourishes as simply as a handful of garden greens or playtime with the kiddo?
Here is some of the good stuff I can add in:
- Messing around with paint and simple crafts
- Dance, zumba
- Loopy poetry-lite in my journal
- Volunteering (hypothermia shelter, trail work, building projects, UU activities)
- Growing things on the balcony
- Leading a class or workshop
- Meeting with a student
- Participating in covenant group
- Hosting some small event or game night at my house
- Walking with a friend
- Listening to live music (preferably free)
- Chatting with neighbors
- Showing up at a social justice action or meeting
- Writing a letter or card to someone I care about
- Taking a class
- Attending a conference
- Working with others to organize an event
- Looking at art
- Community theater
- Fixing some broken thing, like the bike’s brakes or the hole in the drywall
- Helping someone
- Hugging someone
- Board games, trivia, creative activities with kids and friends
- Cooking or baking something novel
- Walking the dog
- Laughing (for just about any reason, really)
This is what a weary mind came up with in just a couple of minutes. It’s a mere beginning, yet already so robust. These are my quick fixes of good stuff. I wonder what others might come up with given five minutes and a pen.
Notice what’s missing from this list? Yep, all that other stuff. Eating alone at the desk. Wandering aimlessly on social media. Reading the newspaper in a silent living room until dark, ignoring emails from friends, peering in the mirror and scrutinizing all the flaws.
Guess how I occupy myself when my mental health is most fragile?
Nevertheless, the trick isn’t to try to stop doing those things. It’s really a matter of keeping the list handy and adding one thing from it — just one good thing — at a time.
Let go of finding a solution. Add in good stuff. Let the solution ride in on those green, grinning wings.
Image: Fairy Garden on Earthporm