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  • Writer's pictureChristy Ragle

Fighting For Joy

A white flower growing in a sidewalk

True confession: When this year started, I (Christy) was living a life I didn’t want to live. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem. It wasn’t depression. It wasn’t my relationships with friends or family. It was… apathy.

If you know me, apathy is not my norm. I live life with a high level of passion and purpose, and apathy felt unnatural. I knew I was working too much. It wasn’t uncommon for me to work 80 hours a week, which is a lot if you are attempting to use your creative brain for most of that time. But if you’re a small business owner, it often feels inevitable. Burnout was chasing me down like a freight train on fire. My physical and emotional health were starting to suffer, and it seemed like there was no escape.

Then I heard a term I’d never heard before: anhedonia. This term, which I heard while listening to the Mel Robbins podcast,* summarized exactly what I’d been feeling. The Cleveland Clinic defines anhedonia as “the inability to experience joy or pleasure. You may feel numb or less interested in things you once enjoyed.”

Fellow small business owners, we’ve been pushing hard. We hustle, we innovate, we grind through every challenge put in our path. Some of us experience success and get addicted to it and want more. But it’s never enough. We take on burdens we weren’t called to take on. We give at the expense of our souls.

And if you are like me, at some point you felt… nothing. No joy. No passion. No drive. Anhedonia.

Thankfully, I’m surrounded by a wonderful support team who helped me dig out of this rut. And over the past several months, I felt joy returning to my daily life. I no longer feel the need to plan another trip when I’m on my way home from a trip in a pathetic attempt to escape reality. I don’t dread going to work. I stopped avoiding human interaction on evenings and weekends.

Here’s are some steps to take to overcome anhedonia:

  1. Find joy in small moments. This is a great place to start. For me, natural light brings me joy. If the sun is shining, I take my cup of coffee and look out my window at the rising sun for a few minutes. If the sun isn’t shining, I light a candle and sip my coffee while savoring the warmth of the flickering light. In addition to light, I have a growing list of things that bring me joy: music, texting someone I care about, planning lunch with a friend, looking at the collage of photos in my living room of our favorite vacation spot. Life is hard and we aren’t going to achieve happiness when we check off a list of items (“I’ll be happy when I retire,” “I’ll be happy when I’m on vacation,” “I’ll be happy when we can buy a bigger house.”). Happiness is not a state, but we can find joy even in life’s hardest moments when we look for it.

  2. Remember your “Why.” Simon Sinek explains that “Mature companies fail when they forget why they were born.” I would say that as small business owners, we need to remember regularly why we do what we do. This might mean taking on a client or project because you want to, not because it makes sense financially. It might mean getting to a conference or workshop to sharpen your skills. Joining a strong and vibrant networking group is another way to remember your “why.”

  3. Give without expectation of return. It’s hard to be apathetic while giving generously. Find a cause you care about and donate or volunteer your time. Pay for the person in line behind you at the drive-through. Smile at people. Send a card to a friend you miss. Ignore the “I don’t feel like it” feeling and savor how you feel when you give selflessly.

  4. Don’t take on tasks that aren’t your responsibility. There is selfless giving and there is toxic giving of yourself to the point of resentment. I had six people recommend the book The Courage to Be Disliked* to me, and my biggest takeaway is asking “Whose task is this?” Rather than jumping in to solve problems that aren’t ours to solve, we need to let others take on the tasks they were meant to accomplish. This has been met with a lot of resistance by folks who were relying on me to do what they should have been doing. However, I feel more peace knowing that I’m doing what I’m called to do and I’m giving space for others to do what they need to do.

  5. Take breaks. My son gave me his old Apple Watch and it reminds me to get up and walk around. Our office is in a walkable downtown district, so I am trying to get out and walk around outside whenever possible. This gives my brain and my soul a moment to recharge. I put my phone away at dinner time, I schedule regular therapeutic massages, and I am taking more “unplugged” trips.

  6. Surround yourself with support. Hire team members that lift your load and empower them to do the work you thought only you could do. Find a group of friends who make you laugh and who you can share life with. I’m blessed with a dear friend who wakes up super early with me for a morning walk/run where we can get some exercise and sort through life together. My faith community is essential to my soul-health. Find a community that encourages you to live the life you are called to live.

As you navigate your way back to having a healthier soul, mind, and body, know that our culture will not hand you peace and joy on a silver platter. You will have to fight for it, but your peace and joy is worth fighting for. And even better… it’s contagious.

When you move past anhedonia and find joy around you, you will begin to bring joy to others, too. Soon you’ll find yourself living a life you love: A life that’s still filled with challenges, but one that brings you joy and gives you a fresh outlook for the work you’re called to do.

-Christy Ragle

Owner, WholeHeart Communications

*This is not a full endorsement of the Mel Robbins podcast (adult language) or The Courage to be Disliked. I don’t agree with everything in these resources, but they have been helpful to me.

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