By R.A. LESLIE
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” But how true is this? After a life of adversity, I can say that only so much hardship builds muscle or character. Our world is filled with things that don’t kill us, yet leave us scared and hurt. Cuts on the outside may heal, but on the inside, there are still fleshy wounds, desperate for our attention.
But as hard as that truth is, there is always—always—possibility to exist with beauty and joy, even in a pained world. When we see ourselves and face our internal wounds, we heal. And we help others heal.
I have discovered more depth and wisdom in the hard memories that are still active in my heart and mind. Many of these stem from moments seemingly insignificant to others, but still, they hurt. But with each year, and every turn toward myself, the wounds that remain teach me more about resilience, gratitude, and joy. And they have taught me to believe.
The world is filled with generations upon generations of trauma and pain. Countless people are struggling with adversity. Societies and cultures face wars and demons. So how do we cope? How do we heal? How do we create joy and gratitude when life really is immensely hard, at times?
These six prompts have always helped me and my clients to see the shiny, silvery light that is everywhere:
#1: Appreciate the minute, overlooked, fleeing bits of joy in every day.
On a recent walk in Central Park, I marveled at a bird that scooped up a crumb that a pigeon was eyeing. I allowed my eyes to gaze on a single bud on a frost-bitten tree. And that barista who complimented my hair when I was having a really bad hair day? I reveled in that for a few minutes. These micro-moments are actually giant buoys.
#2: Go to the library.
I’m telling you, this is magic. Go to the poetry section, choose a book (ideally by a poet you don’t know), and read a few pages. Let the paper linger in your hand. Allow the words to edify, uplift, and even confuse your brain. Sit with it all for a moment. Then read on.
#3: Write a letter about your pain.
If you are holding shame, hurt, or grievances from a past event or person, put pen to paper (or fingers to a device) and write it all out. Tell the event or the person you are kindly returning the pain (or shame, or guilt) back to them. You do not have to send this letter.
#4: Go to a comedy show. Rent a funny movie.
Do anything that will make you—LAUGH. Crying is beautiful in validating our sadness and memories, but laughter is the ingredient for genuine healing. Laugh every day, as much as you can.
#5: Turn off your devices—for at least an hour a day.
You can work up to this, starting with 10 minutes. Eventually, you will realize how much of a drag these devices can be when you’re taking a walk or sitting with your thoughts. They have a purpose, but we are not dependent on them. This is a freeing practice and reminder of just that.
#6: Surround yourself with happy and proactive people.
This includes people near or far from you. Go to the café where you always know the barista will give you a generous smile. Ring a friend who listens and makes you feel seen. The people in our lives have an immense impact on us, so be kind and wise in who you let in and stay. (This positivity also includes happy beings, such as pets. Often on days when I’m not working with clients, I spend all my hours with Nellie, my determined and robust chihuahua. She’s the best listener in the world.)
Life is difficult and messy. And there will always be pain in the world. A well-lived life has many experiences, pleasant, wonderful, hard, and sometimes even catastrophic. Others may not know the hurt you carry, and that is okay. You do—so see it, honor it, laugh, and live. When we treat ourselves with compassion, we carry forth a connectedness that helps others heal. There is joy when we see ourselves and honor what we need.
And remember: Crying can feel good. But it is laughter where we heal. Dig deep and find something to make yourself laugh today. I promise you that others will join in your celebration.