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Pursue joy

July 14, 2020

There’s something about relentless uncertainty that is very wearying to the human spirit. Not knowing when or if I’ll get back to Johannesburg to see my family and pack up my house makes it really hard to plan. I’m trying to put plans in place, but there are so many unknowns that I can’t really make progress. I keep getting tied up in knots over which of the many possible paths will become available to me, and the probability of each, and contingency plans. It’s exhausting. And then I’m inclined to do nothing and that leads to lethargy and that faint hint of depression snapping at my heels.


So much of life seems to be on hold, in the face of relentless uncertainty. I don’t think humans were designed for this. But we may well be re-configured by the experience.

One of the things I’ve noticed while trying to “live in the present” is that I have to focus on the immediate pleasures. Like a cool breeze sneaking through the 30 degree heat, good chocolate and the delightful colours and curves of roses. I’m also taking more of an interest in music, because music manages to express some of the frustration, hope and longing and that eases the pain.


Then I was reminded in an online chat about the importance of creating when a friend shared with me an audio clip that he’d composed using samples from the BBC National Orchestra. Imagine that! He gets to sit at home (still locked down in South Africa), compose, and have this amazing orchestra play his composition. He called the piece the Coronavirus Suite.

Creating is the one sure source of joy. I’ve been drawing in the past months. Just drawing faces, women’s faces, without thinking too much. The time I’ve spent drawing has been peaceful. It’s a break from the endless thinking and questioning and uncertainty. Such pursuits also allow a little bit of self-expression and it seems that expressing this crazy experience is the best means we have to try and make sense of it.

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The challenge seems to be that, with life curtailed, we don’t stumble on joy as often as we used to. Joyous things appear patchily and increasingly rarely. And this has led me to the conclusion that we have to pay attention to the sources of joy and go after them. We can’t leave this to chance. So I’ve been compiling lists of things that bring me joy and using these to consciously plan my days. Each morning I look over my plans and make sure that there are one or two things included that I know will feel joyous.

My lists start with the easy things, like “eat chocolate” and “blow bubbles”, and build up to “take a shower” or “go out for a walk” because when I’m in a slump, as Dr Suess warned, “unslumping yourself is not easily done”. I need very small steps that give me the energy to take bigger steps. But the really big steps, at the end of my lists, when I get to create, have the best effect.


Perhaps the reconfigured humans of the future will pay more attention to their emotional states and intentionally seek ways to find more joy, to mitigate fears and anxieties. I mean, pre-Covid one could be haphazard about this kind of thing, relying on joy to just crop up in day-to-day life, but this demands more vigilance.

Pursue joy.

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