New York City, NY

How To Find Joy Right Now

Jeryl Brunner

In the 1972 episode of the Brady Bunch, "Today I Am A Freshman" Marcia Brady, stands before her high school’s bulletin board surveying all the school club sign-up sheets. “Sign up for your favorite club activity” says the sign in big letters. There’s poetry, archery, karate, ceramics, nursing, music, stamp collecting, drama and on and on.

Which one should she choose?

Marcia signs up for EVERYTHING. And suddenly she’s a scuba-wearing, karate-kicking, yoga warrior. “Honey, aren’t you spreading yourself a little too thin?” asks her mom Carol Brady.

Since the pandemic began, I felt the pull to spend this time wisely. There’s this intense, crazy pressure to do everything as if I were a self-isolating Marcia Brady.

By the end of all this I had better be a cover-to-cover-New-Yorker-reading-barre-class-body-toned-haiku writing-home hair coloring ace-tupperware-organizing guru-disco-dancing-queen with a novella, screenplay and a sassy and innovative quarantine TikTok to show for it.

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The Bow Bridge in New York City's Central Park

And that is just in my down time when I’m not trying to pay my rent, waiting on line to get into Trader Joe’s, or perpetually dealing with the underlying buzz of fear and anxiety that seems to infiltrate everything.

Believe me, I’m beyond grateful and feel blessed to have this delicious deluge of online offerings. A ballet class with New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck! I cry joyful, happy tears during Mark Kanemura’s wig-wearing sparkly dance party. Kanemura, who worked with Lady Gaga and was on So You Think You Can Dance, brings his soul-nurturing “I LOVE YOU ALL” mantra to his jams as he reminds us to breathe. Beloved New York City peformer and choreographer Lainie Munro teaches some fabulous classes virtually at Steps, Broadway Dance Center and Ailey Extention.

But with all these back-to-back classes and self improvement workshops no doubt my inner Carol Brady would say, “Honey, aren’t you spreading yourself much to thin?” I wonder. How much of this comes from my need to find some semblance of control in a situation that feels so preposterously out of control. Perhaps it’s also a way to distract myself from, well, myself.

“People are freaking out to a staggering degree now. Because in our normal lifestyle before isolation, we kept ourselves distracted 100% of the time,” says Ilene Angel author of How to Calm the Hell Down and Be Happy: Practical Wisdom from a Recovering Worrier. “So right now, we are forced to be alone with ourselves, with our thoughts—to look at our lives in a different way.”

Angel sees this time as an opportunity to assess what matters to us—if we have been living the lives we truly want and know we are meant to live. “For many, the answers to that are sobering,” she observes. “But along with this prolonged look in the mirror, comes the opportunity to choose something different, no matter where we are.”

Undoubtedly, we are limited by our circumstances in a lot of ways right now. “But it’s also a unique opportunity to give ourselves the time “to think, to feel, to ponder, to decide, and to begin a different life, even in the confines of our seeming isolation,” explains Angel. “If ever there was a moment to surrender our past to the possibility of what might lie ahead, this is it.”

So maybe the secret doesn’t always lie somewhere else? The other day, in the midst of my organizing mania I was sorting through papers from practically last century when I came upon a quote from the poet Rumi. “You wander from room to room hunting for the diamond necklace that is already around your neck!” Rumi’s words stopped me in my tracks. Instead of working so hard to find the answers, what if I turned in?

All this got me thinking. What if I focused on the simple things that bring me happiness? I took a socially distant bike ride along the Hudson River. The sun was shining. The George Washington Bridge and its 43,000 tons of steel glistened in the distance. The water lapped against the shore. Suddenly amid this bucolic city splendor, I was rewarded even more as I cycled along he majestic landscape tree. How many times have I cycled past but did I ever really see it?

"You don’t have to take a course to discover what fulfills you. To bring yourself joy all you have to do is STOP!,” advises Nancy Winston, LCSW, a noted New York psychotherapist and human behavior expert. Winston who studied with the pioneering therapist Milton Erickson, considered the father of modern hypnotherapy offered this simple exercise: Sit down and bring your attention to three objects in front of you. Then pay attention to three sounds you hear around you and then three sensations you feel around you. “If you discovered some sense of calm or quiet, enough to pay attention to an image or thought or sensation that brings you peace, then you have a structure to discover realistically what will enhance more of you,” says Winston.

So until we get past this, (or maybe longer), I am posting an Instagram picture of something simple that brought me joy or made me grateful with the hashtag #SimpleJoys. Of course I’ll still be signing up that free Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology class and Mountains 101 sounds intriguing and I’ll be doing my meditation call-in, Zoom improv and my beloved theater dance classes. But if I want to feel a sense of calm at least I know it's inside and not lurking on my computer screen.

The Robert F. Kennedy Bridge from the water's edge on Randalls Island in New York City

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New York based journalist who has written for Forbes, Parade, InStyle, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and The Wall Street Journal. Author of the book "My City, My New York, Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places" and podcaster, ("When Lightning Strikes"). I cover the arts, theater, entertainment, food, travel and people who are motivated by their joy and passion.

New York City, NY
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