“What the heck would I do?” he asked me when I inquired about his retirement date. This guy reached his magic pension number in the federal government 15 years ago but he was still working. I couldn’t understand “why?” Continuing to work would not increase his pension at all. Why was he still working? Surely he could have found something more fun? He said he enjoyed the camaraderie, but he did not enjoy the often overwhelming workload. This is what I call experiencing periodic joy by default. I say “by default” because he had not consciously chosen to keep working because it brought him joy. He simply stayed in the job because he did not know what else to do.
Joy by default can happen at any age. We get whisked away by life and slowly forget about pursuing joy. If you are looking to add a joyful activity to your life, change to a more enjoyable career or find something fun to do in your retirement, but don’t know what direction to go, try the following exercise. I call it the MATSI Exercise and it’s a pretty good coaching tool.
Find a pen, a pad of paper and a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit back, relax and close your eyes and let your mind wander back in time. Imagine being back in your childhood. Don’t worry if you can’t retrieve clear and exact memories. Just try to remember the feeling of being young and carefree. Now imagine being really happy, let yourself feel the joy of being a child. Imagine being fully absorbed in some activity, an activity that brought you joy and made you forget about everything else. What is that activity? Are you reading, playing with your friends, making cookies with your Mom or building an airplane model with your Dad? Don’t be concerned if you can’t picture an exact memory. A fragment of a scene will work. If you can’t even find a fragment of a memory, then allow your relaxed mind to make up a joyful image from your childhood. When you find a memory, fragment or have made up your own image, write it down. Then close your eyes and repeat the process as many times as you can. Each time, make sure you relax your mind and let it wander as much as it wants and don’t worry about finding exact memories. Keep your focus on finding many activities that did or would have brought you joy as a kid. Remember, don’t worry about accuracy.
Our minds keep working on problems in the background long after we stop consciously working on a problem. I suggest you stick your list and pen in your pocket and let it sit there for a day. If you are like most people, memories will continue to pop up when you least expect it, when you are driving to work, in the shower, brushing your teeth or even in your dreams. Write these joyful memories down too.
The next step is to pull general themes out of the activities. What was it about these activities that you really enjoyed? Did you enjoy creating or organizing? Did you enjoy short activities or did you often find yourself immersed for long periods of time? Did you enjoy seeing visible results, imagining stories or creating sounds? Did you enjoy making up games that made your friends laugh? Try to pull 3 or 4 underlying, and admittedly ambiguous, themes from each activity. Again, don’t get bogged down in the details or accuracy, your first thoughts are usually the best. Don’t over-think things.
Next, look for similarities in the themes across all the activities. These themes don’t have to run through all of the activities, just look for a few repetitive ones. You will probably end up with 2 or 3 repetitive themes that you can use to guide your pursuit of joy.
The final and most fun step is to look for new activities, new careers or retirement plans that incorporate at least one of your guiding themes. If you can incorporate more than one guiding theme, your enjoyment will increase and you will be on your way to finding your joy.