Feelings of joy are essential to our overall wellbeing and can oftentimes come from the simplest of things. Recently, I spent some time reflecting on a new source of joy in my life and wanted to share this story.
My dad has a rather strong fondness of birds and a remarkable knowledge of them as well. Most of the time he is able to identify the type of bird by looking at it, and often by just the sounds it makes. His love for birds started as a young boy when he would spend summers with his grandfather, who by all accounts was a true expert on birds, at the family cabin in Penns Creek. I believe that it is this connection to his grandfather and his warm childhood memories that have kept him so intrigued over the years.
I, on the other hand, have never paid that much attention to birds. So when he sent me a very nice pair of binoculars along with a field guide to the birds in my area, I didn’t quite know what I was going to do with them. I couldn’t see myself staring into the tops of trees hoping to get an up-close look at the feathered creatures, but binoculars are one of those things that can be pretty handy to have around even if they’re seldom used. Wanting to humor Dad and show him that I appreciated the gift, I decided that I would stage pictures of me using the binoculars while out on hikes and send them to him. In most of the pictures I’ve sent I’m not even looking at birds, and every so often I’m intentionally holding the binoculars backwards to see if he notices; and to humor myself!
So, when my wife and I relocated to southern California last year, it came as no surprise that my dad sent us a field guide for western region birds along with a bird feeder to put out on our balcony. I wasn’t too keen on fooling around with bird seed and the inevitable mess that the birds would leave behind, but similar to the binoculars, I appreciated the thought. Thus, I decided to display it empty on the balcony, preventing the need to completely lie if my dad were to ask about it. And for the next year it sat in the corner, forgotten about, never receiving a visitor.
It wasn’t until I was telling him of all the hummingbirds in our area that he asked about the hummingbird feeder that he sent us and how they were enjoying it. Hummingbird feeder? As opposed to a regular old bird feeder? My dad quickly caught on to the fact that little attention had been given to his gift and playfully called me out on it. Sure enough, when I took a closer look, the tag (which was still attached) clearly said, “Hummingbird Feeder.” After jokingly calling me a fool, my dad shared a simple recipe of sugar and water to put in the feeder, and I have been amazed at how often the hummingbirds have visited the balcony ever since.
How does all of this relate to wellness? For me the simple act of watching and observing the hummingbirds hover and dart around has brought a source joy that was previously unknown. I get excited every time one drops in, with its wings flapping over 50 times per second. Now that they’ve become accustomed to my presence, they will literally fly right up and check me out for several seconds while hovering within a foot of my face! This prompted me to research the types of plants and flowers that hummingbirds are attracted to and within a few days my balcony transformed from a sterile concrete slab into a Zen oasis. Throughout the day I now find myself sitting out there for 20 or 30 minutes at a time just soaking in the calm and activating my parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as “rest and digest,” is the counterpart to the sympathetic nervous system, more commonly known as “fight or flight,” and to put simply, is responsible for undoing damage caused by stress. In fact, your body’s remarkable ability to heal itself is only possible while in this state. So, the more time we spend relaxed, the more self-healing we are able to achieve.
I think the challenge that many of us face is finding the time to relax, particularly during the ongoing pandemic. And those of us who are spending more time at home may actually feel less relaxed because we just need to get out; at least that’s how I’ve felt. However, when I stopped looking through the binoculars backwards it completely changed my view. Now when I look at the bird feeder, instead of seeing a mess, I see beauty. And this has allowed me to carve out a space at home that not only encourages relaxation, but almost requires it.
For my dad, I believe that birds represent a connection to meaningful relationships, while for me they have come to represent serenity at a spiritual level. In either case, these are important areas of life that we should not ignore on our journey towards health. Since we are in the middle of the holiday season, and as you prepare to set your intention for 2021, I encourage you to think about the things that bring you joy and how these simple things can promote your health. You might even discover some new sources of joy along the way!