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
5 thoughts on “Add In the Good Stuff”
You’ve got a lot going on there my friend: did you realise how much before you stopped to jot it all down?
It was the exercise of jotting that made me realize the abundance. Thank goodness for the journal and the bus ride!
Thank. You. For. This. So needed it beyond the ability to explain.
Oh, that’s sweet! You’re most welcome. I hope your day is being good to you.
all for more good stuff but does anything really work for diets and family?
Most of my life was spent
building a bridge out over the sea
though the sea was too wide.
I’m proud of the bridge
hanging in the pure sea air. Machado
came for a visit and we sat on the
end of the bridge, which was his idea.
Now that I’m old the work goes slowly.
Ever nearer death, I like it out here
high above the sea bundled
up for the arctic storms of late fall,
the resounding crash and moan of the sea,
the hundred-foot depth of the green troughs.
Sometimes the sea roars and howls like
the animal it is, a continent wide and alive.
What beauty in this the darkest music
over which you can hear the lightest music of human
behavior, the tender connection between men and galaxies.
So I sit on the edge, wagging my feet above
the abyss. Tonight the moon will be in my lap.
This is my job, to study the universe
from my bridge. I have the sky, the sea, the faint
green streak of Canadian forest on the far shore.
“Bridge” by Jim Harrison