From a philosophical and metaphysical perspective, I firmly believe that life is good. On a day in, day out basis, though, life is a mixture of good, bad, and a lot in between. For most of my life, my primary emphasis has been on minimizing the bad and taking the good where I happen to encounter it.
I don’t have to tell you that these are not ordinary times. I’m spending more time trying to avoid the bad parts of life and many of my favorite good parts (first and foremost, travel) are closed or carry risks I’m unwilling to accept.
That makes finding what happiness and joy we can all the more important.
I’m not talking about the things we do to take care of ourselves. Eat good food, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, and don’t skimp on your spiritual practice. I could not get through all this without a regular spiritual practice. These are the ordinary things we do (or try to do) at all times. They just become more critical in bad times.
Rather, I’m talking about the things that bring happiness and joy. Not things that you look back on in ten years and say “turns out that really was good.” I’m talking about the things that bring us pleasure in the moment. These are the things we do because we like doing them.
This is my list. I imagine your list is different… maybe a lot different. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. This isn’t about finding deep meaning. It’s about finding the things you can do now that make your life a little more pleasant, if only for a short time.
An old cliché says that if you want to really learn something, teach it. Some people take that out of context and decide that if they “stay one lesson ahead” of their students they can teach something they don’t know. That’s never a good idea.
I already knew a fair amount of magic. I’ve been interested in it all my life, and I’ve been actively practicing it for 27 years. But when I started getting ready to teach an on-line class in Operative Magic, my understanding of magic went up about three notches. I love learning… I love knowing. Even if no one had signed up for this class, just creating it made me happy.
And a lot of people signed up for it. It’s a pleasure to interact with them and see them learning. It’s especially nice to see them improving their lives with magic.
This class may very well be the highlight of a very bad first half of 2020.
Walking in parks with a camera
Local parks are one of the few things that have remained more or less the same as before the pandemic, and North Texas has many very nice public parks.
I don’t need a park to walk – walking through the subdivision lets me get exercise right out of my front door. But the parks have trees, lakes, and wooded areas that subdivisions just don’t have. And while there are plenty of birds, squirrels, and rabbits in my back yard, they’re a lot easier to spot and track in the parks. These walks let me take pictures for blog illustrations, for Instagram, and for my own enjoyment.
I am still very much a Nature-centered Pagan. Being in Nature and taking pictures of Nature makes me very happy.
Experimenting with video
I started a monthly video series in 2017. I ended it after about a year – it was a lot of work and not a lot of people were watching the videos. I started shooting introductory videos for my classes last year, and since the quarantine hit I’ve been doing online rituals. I keep all the public videos on my YouTube channel.
On Sunday I wrote about some of the considerations with online rituals. While I want to keep the focus of these rituals on the rituals themselves, I also want to do more than talk to a camera. I want to learn how to present a ritual with video.
I’m reading articles and watching how-to videos and playing with my cameras. And I quickly learned that I don’t need an expensive video camera. You can do a lot with smartphones these days – Stephen Soderbergh shot the Netflix movie High Flying Bird on an iPhone 8.
Right now what I’m doing would be better classified as “playing” rather than “experimenting.” And while I’m hoping to have some new things for the online Lughnasadh ritual on August 1, don’t expect a cinematic masterpiece.
But I’m learning something useful and having fun with it, and that makes me happy.
Food and drink
We haven’t been to a restaurant since early March, but we’ve been hitting drive-through, carry-out, and delivery on a regular basis. We’ve been cooking more, both Cathy’s more elaborate meals and my “grill meat and bake potatoes” cooking. I don’t know if we’re spending more on food or less – based on the checking account balances at the end of the month, I think it’s about the same.
We’re trying some new things, but mainly we’re eating the things we like.
I’m trying some new wines and whiskeys. I can’t drink a lot of those, so I’m also trying some new teas (especially decaffeinated green tea – perfect for late afternoons). And sometimes, nothing is quite as good as pure cold water.
I’m more of a peasant than a food snob, but I like what I like and I’m not saying no to anything right now. Good food and drink makes me happy.
Goths and vampires
Those of you who’ve been regular readers for a while will find this completely unsurprising. Dark fantasy has been one of my coping mechanisms for a very long time.
I rewatched the entire Underworld series twice, though I only watched Rise of the Lycans once, and I regretted that – it’s not a pleasant movie. I’ve watched Bram Stoker’s Dracula more times than I can count. I’ve watched The Mummy, both the 1932 original and the 1999 version and its sequels. I keep coming back to Penny Dreadful on a regular basis.
And I’ve been spending a lot of time watching music videos on YouTube. Checking my recent history, I see my old favorites Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. New favorites Blood Ceremony, Chelsea Wolfe, and She Wants Revenge. And I discovered the German band BlutEngel, whose videos and stage performances are fascinating, even though their English songs are cheesy and I can’t understand their German songs. I don’t care – they’re fun to watch.
As I discussed last year, vampire movies and goth music and such don’t make me happy. They just make difficult things beautiful. And we can all use a little more beauty in times like these.
Seeing a very few friends
Once the lockdown started, Cathy and I went seven weeks without seeing anyone besides ourselves. It wasn’t total isolation: we still had online connections, including some Zoom calls. But by May I was craving in-person interaction. While I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person, I was desperate to touch and be touched by someone else… possibly the first time I’ve felt that way in my entire life.
The first time we had two friends over for dinner it was like finding water after being lost in the desert.
Is it risky? There’s risk every time you come in contact with another person. But there’s a huge difference in interacting with a small handful of friends who you know aren’t socializing widely on one hand, and going to a bar – or a church – where there are dozens or even hundreds of people you don’t know who may not be taking Covid-19 seriously on the other. When it comes to things like this, there is no such thing as “safe” or “unsafe.” There are only degrees of risk. Some risks are relatively minor – others are so major as to be foolish. Some of you are in high-risk groups and can’t afford to take even this much risk – I feel for you.
I’m still an introvert at my core. I don’t need much interaction, and I don’t want a lot. But I need some. And seeing a very few, very close friends makes me very, very happy.
What makes you happy?
In my life and in my blogging, I constantly emphasize doing what must be done – keep going through bad times and make tomorrow better than today. You don’t have to like it – you just have to deal with it.
But part of “dealing with it” is making sure you have enough good experiences to keep you going, to remind you that life is more than trying to stay alive when a virus is trying to kill you. We need moments of joy and pleasure.
This is my list – these are the things that are making me happy.
What’s on your list?