Drugged on Joy
Such a departure was it from my normal behaviour that it left me shaking with adrenaline for hours, freaked out by what else I was capable of.
It wasn’t psychedelic drugs – I’m too much of hypochondriac for that. It wasn’t extreme sport – something that will never float my boat.
It was simply that I booked a seat on the Eurostar one hour before it was due to leave the station. For the impulsive among us that’s probably no big deal.
But for someone like me who worships routine and craves control – it was about as far from my comfort zone as I’ve been in a long time.
And you know what? It felt amazing. As I sat with my little sister in Paris a few hours later, demolishing a huge bowl of pea carbonara and sipping red wine, I wondered why on earth I didn’t relax the rules and let joy into my life a little more often.
Pleasure is powerful stuff
In fact, having a sense of joy is the second most important factor for predicting cancer survival, according to research from Sandra Levy, associate professor of psychiatry and medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.
Feeling euphoric also provides free access to Interleukin-2.
The synthetic version of the substance – the cancer drug Proleukin – costs around $40,000 and comes with a long list of side effects.
But according to medical research you can boost your own secretions of Interluekin-2 just by being relaxed and joyful.
It sounds so simple. But is it really?
One in three British workers fails to take their full annual holiday entitlement according to a recent survey. Instead they put in 36 million hours of free overtime.
The relentless pressures of twenty-first century life mean many of us have forgotten how to ‘let go.’
Prior to getting cancer Mum now admits that she was ‘just going through the motions.’ She felt like a slave to her to-do list and would always postpone pleasure in lieu of one more task.
She routinely put her own needs behind those of her four children, friends, her dogs, other people’s dogs (at one point I think she was walking six) and while selflessness might be the mark of a saint, any virtue can turn to vice, when taken to the extreme.
So for Mum, putting joy back on the agenda has been crucial to her recovery.
She has learnt to say ‘no’ to other’s endless demands and her own exacting expectations. Complicated meals are now a special treat and simple meals – organic lamb chops and salad – are du jour.
Mum has also transformed her approach to exercise. Rather than another chore to tick of the list, these days it’s an experience to delight her soul. Some days it’s a swim at the beach, a jump on her mini tramp, a qigong class or a ‘spirit raising’ session of kundalini yoga at home.
Lose track of time
Finding pleasure and fulfillment is a key component of Dr. Bernie Siegel’s workshops for Exceptional Cancer Patients (ECaP):
‘ “Do I have enough play in my life?” That’s what patients need to ask themselves,’ he told me in a recent interview. ‘ So find things that help you lose track of time. Because then you’re in a trance state, and that’s the healthiest state to be in.’
There’s still people to email, features to write and a fringe that desperately needs a cut – but it can wait, I’m not going to slavishly follow today’s ‘to-do’s.
According to one psychologist: ‘The day our list is complete and our inbox is empty is the day we die.’
At the moment I’m hell bent on living.
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