Self-Care Tips

How the Pandemic Changed the Perspective of This Joy Strategist

Photo: Getty Images/Eva Blanco and EyeEm
It's Tuesday, March 3, 2020, and I'm sitting in joy strategist Grace Harry's apartment overlooking New York's East River. In just over a week, the World Health Organization (WHO) will officially declare COVID-19 a pandemic. For now, though, I wander around a room filled with "children's" toys: coloring books, a xylophone, a hula hoop. A room where Harry teaches people the skill most tend to forget around middle school: how to play. Neither Harry nor I don't know it yet, but the capacity for human joy is about to be challenged in a way that it's never been challenged before.

On January 5, 2022, I call Harry, who's moved to a little cottage in upstate New York since we last talked, and we spend some time catching up on career changes, reflecting on lost loved ones, and trying to verbalize some of the unspeakable emotions the pandemic’s stirred within us. Finally, I ask Harry how her perspective on joy has changed since March 2020. I'm curious if she still believes in the power of play, and she says yes, but her relationship with it is more complicated it than it once was—she used to prescribed the same practice to every one of her clients that she did herself: Find something that makes you straight-up exuberant and do it for at least 20 minutes each day.

While she says that she still believes that play is a conduit for unlocking joy, the pandemic showed her that many people don't even believe they deserve joy in the first place. So getting them to want to dedicate even 20 minutes to playtime felt strained—even forced.

"At the time when you and I were having a session, I was basically only meeting with people who had a decent understanding that they could change their life, but just maybe needed help and support," she says. "While working with frontline workers and melanated people during the pandemic, I really got such a clear understanding that they felt like they were cheating to talk to me. Getting them to feel the entitlement to stretch out and reach out and listen to their own intuition, was really what I learned and gathered."

Through working with people who didn't necessarily believe they deserved joy, Harry discovered a new way to unlock people's sense of play. Instead of handing them a hula hoop or a stack of LEGOs, she started asking them to look deep within themselves to find what once made them feel joyful. Then, she asked them to resurrect that instead. For one client, artist, and mother, that meant making a three-song playlist of songs she loved from her teenage years and dancing around the house. For another woman working as a nurse, the simple act of opening a spiritual book and choosing a quote she loved to share with her family became her source of light-heartedness.

"The more that you play, the more you'll find joy and the more you'll glow because you will resonate with other people. You're illuminating light because you're having fun and you're feeling good," Harry told me back in 2020. It's still true, but now Harry has dedicated much of her work to what comes before playing. That is, to show people how worthy they are of feeling like a child—even if only for a minute or two each day.

Ahead, you'll find the joy-sparking questions Harry sent me home with back in 2020. Yes, things have changed since then, but as Harry is fond of saying: "Joy is your birthright."

1. When was the last time I laughed so hard, I almost peed myself?

"The first order of business is to laugh,” Harry says. “Call a friend; go to a funny movie; read some jokes; find a comedian online. Feel how good that feels. Laughing is medicine." Once you've identified the last time you LOL'd so hard your abs hurt, see if you can replicate that experience day by day. Maybe that means look at a delightful YouTube video of farm animals talking that's somehow never not funny or asking someone to tickle you for a few minutes.

2. When was I the most confident in myself?

Harry says that in her experience, most clients felt the most rooted in their self-esteem in childhood. "Let's go back to when you were a kid, and you just felt like you were the shit," she said. "Were you nine? Were you 10?" She then asks you to think about how you lived your life back then. Did you wear stripes and polka dots in the same outfit? Did you play in the dirt with your bare hands? Did you make up rhymes for fun? See what worked for you then so that you can decide what's worth replicating now.

3. What are my instincts telling me to do?

Deep down, you already know exactly what type of play will inspire to be your fully-realized and happy self. Try tuning in to your inner child to find out.

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