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Do What Makes You Happy – Why Acts of Care & Joy are Key to Our Mental Health
Feb 11, 2021
Danah Shuli
contributing writer
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Image source: Pexel
Danah Shuli
contributing writer
Accepting help is not something that comes easy to me. I have been fortunate enough and blessed to have had a kind, loving and generous mother-in-law who was always my second hand and back bone at all times but especially in times of need. Now that she has returned to her Lord, may Allah (S) forgive her and grant her the highest levels of Jannah, and my own mother living thousands of miles away, I often feel lost and in dire need of help.
What I’ve learned through our grief and going through COVID with my family, is that Allah (S) sends waves of ease and mercy through your times of difficulty, when you need it most and least expect it. And, that we all need to actively cultivate and seek joy around us.
For me, that was friends and family coming together and planning a meal train for us as we dealt with COVID over the past two weeks. Having to take care of my husband, who was the most ill, and the rest of my family was overwhelming and scary. I am thankful for all of those who have helped us get through by sending us delicious meals, keeping my kids busy by sending arts and crafts for them and just checking on us constantly to let us know we are on their mind and in their du’as.
Seeing our loved ones rush to our aid at a time I felt very vulnerable and alone has been truly humbling and has helped me realize that although my mother-in-law’s shoes will never be filled, there are still those around us who care about us and want to lend a helping hand.
Many of us can agree that life has been extraordinarily tough. We have been dealing with the COVID-19 global pandemic for nearly a year. Many of us are still sheltering in place and limiting the way we socialize with others while virtually attending school and work. All this has put a mental and physical strain on families and individuals worldwide.
Aside from the pandemic, each one of us is facing our own personal struggles, challenges and tests. In order to cope in a healthy manner, it’s important for us to make some time for small acts that bring us and those around us joy, in order to take care of ourselves and our community.
Image source: Pexel
But what are small acts of self care that bring you joy? What are you actually doing just for the betterment of yourself? What is stopping you? Is it time? Too many responsibilities? Your own health issues? Perhaps the first step in actively seeking to do something for yourself is understanding what may be stopping you, and how you can rectify or hopefully get around it, even if briefly.
Then, we must look beyond the surface to what really helps us feel centered, happy, or maybe even just calm. I invite you to take a deeper look at what truly brings you joy - small acts that we can do for ourselves and our loved ones to spread happiness. Maybe it’s stopping certain things or even saying no to things asked of you that tire you out or bring you down. These things are sometimes overlooked and seem insignificant, but when we take a moment to appreciate the little acts of kindness towards ourselves and others, it makes all the difference.
Morning and Evening Routine
I’ve dedicated an entire post to creating a strong morning routine, and I can’t stress it enough. It’s an absolute game changer to carve out some time for yourself in the morning and evenings (if possible) to carry out a routine that will help you kickstart a great day ahead. For me, it’s waking up before the kids to a quiet house, making my cup of Nescafe as I listen to the morning adhkar. I read my daily wird (number of pages read each day of the Quran) and if I can, I do some morning stretches afterwards. By then the kids are usually up and we start our morning.
What would help you feel centered and well in the morning? Some extra time spent in the remembrance of Allah (S)? A cup of coffee in quiet? A workout? A moment to write in your journal? Time to sit outside on the steps and just breathe? All of the above? Whatever it is, consider making time for it before you “officially” have to start your day.
I don’t always get to have the same type of evening routine. Between dinner time, cleaning up and putting the kids to bed, our evenings are pretty busy. At a minimum, I try to play the evening adkhar as I prepare dinner. It is something I have accustomed my family to in order to ground ourselves in the remembrance of Allah (S) as we prepare to end our day. After bedtime, if I don't fall asleep in the process, I enjoy a cup of tea with my husband as we catch up on our day, watch our favorite show, or simple sip our tea in silence.
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Winding down doesn’t always have to be an entire routine, many of us just simply can’t afford that in this season of life as tired working mothers raising young Muslims.
Learn Something New
It can take some soul searching, but if you can give yourself the time to look deep enough, you will find something that you are passionate about or would like to learn. I have started taking Palestinian embroidery (tatreez) classes in an effort to pass down this tradition to my own children and to carry on my late mother-in-law’s legacy of embroidery and sewing. I also chose this activity to regain my own sanity as a form of self care and small act of joy for myself.
Although I have not been able to get to it yet, I have been interested in practicing hand lettering. I have also found joy in taking deen classes to better understand my faith. I especially enjoy lectures and series by Yaqeen Institute, such as the “For those left behind” series, which has helped my family and I understand and cope with our grief after losing two loved ones at the end of last year.
The Sabr App has been a great resource for quick daily reminders and short lectures to listen to throughout my day or while driving. I am also taking a class on the tafsir of Surah Yusuf (my favorite surah) taught by my friend Samia Mubarak from Quranic Ocean. Alhamdillah, there are numerous resources out there for us to learn more about our faith, it can honestly be overwhelming. Experiment with different resources and different mediums (YouTube lectures, podcasts, virtual classes) until you find the one that you enjoy learning from.
Pamper Yourself at Home
Feeling good doesn’t always have to mean spending money or going out of your way. Here are some simple acts of kindness I enjoy doing for myself and family to sprinkle some love throughout our day
Things I Do for Myself (these will vary for you)
1. Listening to a podcast or relaxing music.
2. A warm drink to enjoy as a midday pick me up or before bedtime.
3. Baking
4. Taking a walk in the neighborhood.
5. Taking a nap.
6. Sleeping early.
7. Crafting (if that’s your thing)
8. Listening to a podcast based on your interests
9. Taking care of plants.
10. Having an evening or day off while the husband watches the kids.
Image source: Pexel
Things I Do for Him
Knowing my husband’s love language(s) is key when it comes to things I enjoy doing for him to help strengthen our relationship and prevent burnout and underappreciation. These little surprises throughout his day make him feel appreciated and loved.
1. Making his favorite snack during the work day and sending it up to his home office (if he’s working at home).
2. Picking up his favorite treat while at the grocery store.
3. Getting him a coffee while I’m out running errands.
4. Giving him a day off to enjoy with friends.
5. Watching his favorite movie together.
6. Making him a craft with the kids to keep in his home office to remind him how much the family appreciates his hard work.
7. Letting him sleep in on weekends.
8. Random hugs and kisses.
For Young Children
Learning your children’s love language is also essential to doing acts of love and kindness for them. If you have kids of your own, you know that it doesn’t take much to please them and what they really want is for us to be engaged and in the moment. Here are a few things my toddlers enjoy, and some suggestions for those with older kids. Many of these activities will overlap between age groups.
1. Taking a drive and getting ice cream.
2. Playing outdoors with them and/or going to the park.
3. Surprising them with a new experiment or activity to do.
4. Allowing them to help make breakfast or get dinner ready even if that means a bigger mess. (They love getting involved!)
5. Giving them extra screen time when I need to catch a break during the day.
6. Pretend play and being in the moment.
7. Engaging in their activities
8. Reading books.
For Older Kids
1. Deliver their favorite drink or snack during their school day (virtual learning).
2. One-on-one time with each child to talk about anything they like or do an activity they enjoy.
3. Allowing them to decide the dinner menu for the week.
4. Encouraging them to pursue a new hobby or interest they are good at but may not be confident about. Provide the materials and classes they need. Show off their work throughout your home and to family and friends, etc.
5. Surprise movie night with special snacks and treats. Think popcorn bar and hot chocolate station!
6. Plan a staycation together.
Check on Your Loved Ones
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We all know of at least one person in our lives, whether a family member or friend, who is having an extra difficult season of life. They may be going through a loss, an illness, have an overwhelming load on their plate or going through some personal struggle. It always makes my day when I hear from others by phone or a simple text. It seems trivial, but it makes all the difference in someone’s day when they know others are thinking about them.
The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: “Exchange gifts, as that will lead to increasing your love to one another.” [Al- Bukhari]
Take this simple act of kindness a step further and follow the sunnah of gift giving. Send someone an unexpected gift, like a flower or plant delivery. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive. You can also set up a meal train for your friend or family member who is grieving the loss of their loved one, just had a baby, caught COVID and is going through their quarantine or just having a hard time.
If you are unable to cook and can afford to do so, send your friend a food delivery gift card or have a meal delivered to their home. Drop off their favorite coffee or drink at their door. Send them a hand written note in the mail or something you know they’d enjoy and love, especially if they have kids. There are never enough activities and crafts for little hands to enjoy.
If all else fails, remember that smiling is a simple yet often forgotten act of sunnah that can brighten someone’s day. I know we are all probably wearing masks, and it may be hard to spread a smile in public, but those with us at home deserve a smile throughout their day too. Don’t forget to spread one and reap its rewards in the process!
Abu Dharr narrated that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “Your smiling in the face of your brother is charity …” [Al-Tirmidhi]
May you take the time to find your own acts of joy and choose to do them for yourself and your loved ones.
What is it that brings you personal comfort and joy? What have ou learned about your own love language recently? Share with us in the comments below!
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