October 10, 2011

Where’s your joy?

The other evening I was quickly walking through my home office when I was suddenly startled by a loud squeak. I looked down to see that I’d just stepped on one of what seems like hundreds of toys that are strewn throughout my home. I try to keep these toys picked up so they remain contained in one of two toy baskets, but most are constantly in use and, therefore, often waiting to surprise me with a squeak attack when I’m hurrying from one room to another.

Looking at the toys, you might conclude that I had a toddler (or two). I do have a wee one that plays with all the toys. And he is two years old. But he’s covered in fur, weighs 7 pounds and is named Latte – an adorable little Morkie (if I do say so myself). And he is truly one of the biggest joys of my life.

To say Latte is spoiled rotten would be an understatement, although he really is one of the sweetest, happiest little guys you could ever hope to meet. And boy, does he love to play with toys. So despite my mimicking the evil Berger-Meister-Meister-Berger and often proclaiming “There will be no more toys!,” there inevitably are more toys – whether received as gifts or bought by this “Daddy” who can’t resist his “Kid.” Thus, there are toys all over my home – usually in various states of play.

So the other evening, when I stepped on a toy and realized I was standing in a virtual minefield of toys, I didn’t get irritated. Instead, I realized that all of these toys that were seemingly making my otherwise well organized home look messy were symbols of joy for me. Representing joy embodied in a 7-pound pooch full of unconditional love… Joy embodied in toys that the said pooch plays joyfully with… Joy embodied in a squeaky toy reminding me to slow down for a second and smell the roses – or count the toys, in any case.

Here’s where I must confess that I didn’t always find joy in everyday objects. Back in the day, when I weighed in excess of 450 pounds, I was constantly looking to food to provide my joy in life. And at the time, I was sure that food was providing just that – joy.

Looking back, I can see now that the massive amount of unhealthy food I was eating was actually doing just the opposite of providing joy. I’d be so miserable after a binge and in such mental and physical pain, that as soon as I had room in my stomach, I would once again seek comfort from food.

This “Food for Joy Syndrome” continued for years and years – until I finally broke the cycle by realizing I had to find other sources of joy to use in place of the food. Imagine my surprise when I realized that food had never really been providing comfort or joy in the first place but, instead, had been keeping me from it.

Living in California, I’m surrounded by self-help gurus who constantly remind us that there is joy in every minute. I used to guffaw at such “nutty-crunchy” theories. But these days, surrounded by toys and other “small” blessings, I realize that there really is joy to be found in whichever direction you look – as long as you’re not looking in the direction of the refrigerator.

I’m not saying food can’t bring us joy on occasion. But food really is more delicious (and potentially more full of joy) when eaten in balance, in moderation and in the right portions. Otherwise, the food isn’t providing joy as much as it’s providing a numbing effect. And that can cut us off from many of life’s other – and very real – joys (including smaller sized clothes, a healthier heart, more self confidence and a less stressful social life).

By breaking ourselves free from the cycle of equating our only joy with food, we free ourselves – not only to meet our weight loss or health-oriented goals, but also to really appreciate everything around us. Whether it’s a lick on the face from a puppy, a favorite TV show, a call from an old friend or a beautiful sunrise, there can be joy in every minute if we set out to acknowledge said joys.

And in times that we’re rushing around, too busy to count our blessings, we can hope for a squeaky dog toy or some kind of other reminder to bring us back into the moment and help us realign ourselves with what’s really important in our lives.

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4 Responses to “Where’s your joy?”

  1. Eve says:

    I always think of a scene from the movie Stuart Little. Stuart the mouse offers to rub the cat’s tummy. Snowbell the cat responds with, “How’d you like to rub it from the inside?” That pretty much sums up my emotional relationship with food. It’s always been a sort of tummy rub from the inside, a hug, a happy, warm, fuzzy feeling. However temporary, it soothed. Whatever I needed from the outside world or the people in it, I got from food. I physically filled an emotional hole. Any first year psych major would roll his or her eyes at the obviousness of it, made ever more obvious by the fact that, on the few rare occasions when I was really happy, I didn’t think about eating. I was a pretty lonely kid and grew up to be a loner. This does not make for a life of happiness and hugs. So, this thing that has become a crutch I hate is also the thing that often seems irreplaceable. I want to lose it, yet I don’t know how to cope without it.

  2. Gregg says:

    Wow, Eve! Really powerful words. Thank you so much for sharing. Although I’m worried about that little mouse in Stuart Little, I’m not worried about you. Because even though these realizations can seem momentarily mind numbing, they can also lead us to freedom. It’s not wrong to find joy from food. The trick is to enjoy it in moderation, while also find joy in other things around you. Perhaps, as in my case, from our animal friends. Or some funny exchanges on facebook. Or the way the sun is shining through your window on a crisp autumn day. In other words, spread the joy around. This might help to take the “power” away from the food, which is very good at playing temptress (or tempter, your call). I love when you share comments like these. They help other people to know they’re not alone in these feelings that seem to haunt us. You are an inspiration to them as well as to me. And guess what? You, me, the mouse and that cat are all in this together. So let’s rely on one another as we strive to get healthier!

  3. Amy says:

    Thanks for the touching reminder of the non caloric joys of life! With all the commercials on the tube luring us into searching for happiness in something we can shove in our pieholes, it’s hard to have some backbone and THINK before we gobble. You’re a wonderful inspiration.

  4. Gregg says:

    Awwww! Thanks, Amy!

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