Article by Charlotte Fox Weber, Psychotherapist, writer and co-founder of Examined Life
We want this time period to have counted for something. Maybe that’s one of the many reasons we’ve put so much extra pressure on ourselves to self-actualise during the pandemic, to develop and grow and evolve.
We have a terrible fear of stagnation, and we’ve felt so utterly stuck and restricted in countless ways. Think of the various rules, the bans, everything that’s been cancelled. We want to know that we’ve done something worthwhile, that life is still beautiful and plentiful.
Life is still beautiful, but many of us are in pain, dealing with loss and sorrow, and fear, whether it’s big or in small, insidious ways. There’s so much that isn’t going our way.
We need excitement. We need it on an almost biological, cellular level. We are meant to have fun as a species, and it’s part of what motivates us. Another component of our desperation for excitement has to do with our love of celebrations. Weddings, even memorial services, graduations, parties to mark achievements, birthdays, work drinks, all of these things are meant to note progress and accomplishment and passages of time. Celebrations are occasions for bearing witness to love and success. These occasions also give us so much to look forward to, and we know this matters.
My six year old son still gets excited for things, and I encourage his enthusiasm. He can’t wait to see a certain friend, eat something he loves, or do something fun. He dreams of snow, but he’s willing to still get excited about what’s within reach. Enthusiasm is one of the best qualities we can have, and I hope he retains this throughout life. Enthusiasm and excitement, if we think about it, are packed full of hope and optimism. It’s hard to feel hopeful right now, but it’s all the more important that we try. This isn’t me being a vapid cheerleader for a losing team, and it isn’t even like the musicians who kept playing music as the Titanic sunk, although hats off to them for their perseverance and commitment until the very end. My wish to insist on enthusiasm comes from wanting to embrace what we can, tolerate the givens, and see what is still possible. There is still so much that’s incredible about life, but it’s hard to remember this when reality feels so bleak. So how do we hold onto any sense of wonder, and look forward to what’s to come when the news is so dreadful, and we have lost and continue to lose so much?
Expect that it’s harder than usual to cultivate excitement, and it may, for many of us, require extra intention and prioritisation. Reality is not going to easily offer up quick sources of excitement, with parties, consumerism, glittery holidays and all the rest. We don’t have as many shiny distractions. I am not saying this in a pious way. I love gloss and sparkle as well as the deeper stuff in life. I want to go to parties and weddings and wear cocktail dresses and talk to strangers. It’s not just the occasions themselves I enjoy, I love looking forward to a party, anticipating it, then experiencing it, and debriefing afterwards. I love the entire arc of having something to look forward to, experiencing it, and then having it as a memory.
The reason we need excitement is because we need to believe that our future is worthwhile, that life can still provide pleasure and fun and even euphoria. We need to believe in some kind of forward motion. What’s happened for many of us is a kind of brutal nostalgia, not just for occasions we had, parties we attended, experiences we shared, but for the choices and options we had, the freedom we tasted, and all of that feels so out of reach. We miss feeling hopeful. We miss feeling joyful and zesty, when we could celebrate, raise glasses, gather in shared spaces. We miss ourselves more than any one thing or activity. And I think we are exaggerating, or at least I am. I am idealising how life felt, how I felt, how parties were, who I was in all of it. I’m looking back with rose tinted glasses and it’s heart-breaking and self-pitying and also, most importantly, leaves me in a kind of emotional cul-de-sac.
So here is my excitement revival plan:
- We need to be more honest with ourselves about how imperfect and challenging life has always been, and we also need to be more balanced about how beautiful it still can be. It wasn’t totally charming before, and it isn’t totally charmless now. Flowers are still pretty. Birds still sing. People can still laugh. Integrating the polarities and finding the shades and lightness from the past and the present allows for a healthier perspective. When we stop idealising the past, we can feel better about what’s to come. Life wasn’t perfect before, and there will be good things to come.
- We can invite excitement. We can’t force excitement to come our way, but if we invite it consciously, it’s more likely to show up. Zest may not take the same format as it might without the pandemic, but it’s still possible. By making excitement a priority in our minds, we are more likely to experience it. Seek it actively. If you go for a walk and decide you’ll find something red, you probably will, even if not instantly. If you actively seek excitement in your life, it’s more likely to find its way to you. Be open about the form it might take. It could be a connection with an old friend, a new friendship, a fascinating new work project, or it might be something immediate, such as playing a game, reading something interesting.
- Pick something you’re interested in, that can challenge you, and pay attention to it. Find out more about it. Focus, concentrate, and engage wholeheartedly. It won’t come naturally for many of us. We are distractable, preoccupied, disconnected, and many of us feel listless and dispirited at the moment. So concentrating may feel effortful. Do it anyway, for a brief moment at least. Then rest if you want. Expanding the mind is such a tonic.
- Accept that if you don’t feel excitement now, you will again, one day. Sometimes when we are particularly depressed, we experience what’s called anhedonia, where things that used to give us pleasure and joy no longer do. If this is happening to you, and you simply cannot feel enthused and excited, hold onto the knowledge that you’re out of sorts at the moment, and that’s okay, and you will feel differently at another point in time. Don’t think that how you feel right now is how life will always be.
Don’t give up on excitement. Feeling excited is energising, hopeful, motivating, and enriching. It’s also something that might require effort, because unlike my six year old, and most other children, adults have a harder time feeling excited. But it matters deeply, and it’s still possible, no matter how dark and difficult these days may be, to feel excited about something.
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