Joy-curious

One of the hardest things about waking up to my wants and needs in my 30s is that I have no idea what I actually enjoy! I butt up against this all the time. I think something might be fun because it’s fun for other people, but will I like it? If a thing is wildly popular and I don’t like it, does that mean I’m wrong? Am I’m too stupid to “get it”? Am I just a party-pooper?

(No; probably not; and maybe a little, on occasion.)

It’s equally strange to acknowledge that things I thought I liked are actually kind of unpleasant (baking, doing my hair, opening gifts). And it’s downright bizarre realizing I like something but don’t feel like I’m allowed.

I have several plastic bins in my attic full of dresses. At least two dozen dresses in different colors, fabrics, and styles, neatly folded, organized by season and occasion. In my attic. I love dresses, but I rarely wear them. Putting on a dress makes me feel like I’m in a costume, and I have this deep-seated fear that someone will figure out my “secret.” I’ll be exposed as the “fake girl” I’ve always believed myself to be.

I feel most like myself in a black t-shirt and jeans—and I like wearing those things!—but I keep questioning that “like.” Do I like wearing this androgynous, minimalist uniform because I actually like it, or do I “like” it because I think I’m not pretty enough to wear dresses—or that I don’t deserve to wear dresses?

How much of what I like is part of an old story from my past (probably tied to worthiness)? What really brings me joy? (What is joy, anyway?)

A frequent suggestion for sorting out what might make you happy now is to look at what made you happy then. As a child, I loved ballet, drawing, writing stories, reading, watching movies and music videos, singing low in my register (imagine an 8-year-old Cher impersonator), making up parodies, anything “behind the scenes,” and talking about my thoughts, very loudly and excitedly, for hours at a time.

In the fifth grade, I wrote and illustrated elaborate dramas about my small collection of pet mice and hamsters, complete with mysteries and love triangles. How do I get that little-kid creativity into my grown-up life? I can’t imagine making up wild adventure stories starring Fiona, the cantankerous and increasingly-incontinent cat who sleeps on my partner’s pillow.

Fortunately, I’m not the first adult to wrestle with cultivating happiness (Gretchen Rubin comes to mind). I’m pretty confident I can tap into my inner elementary-school kid and find at least a few things I like now.

It might even help me start to see what I’m like now.

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