Pathways to Lightheartedness




If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.




      The need for lightheartedness

Many people would suggest that these times are not to be taken lightheartedly. These are serious times. Our world is fraught with problems of climate change, political polarization, wars, the growing gap between the haves and the have nots, and the reality of visible intolerances of gender, faith, or race. Add to this that people are feeling burdened, often chronically, with the many challenges of Covid. All of these issues are real and serious. The pathway to a better future includes acknowledging and addressing the seriousness.

A heavy heart makes addressing issues more difficult. How do we, while avoiding a heavy heart, acknowledge the seriousness of what confronts us as individuals, communities?

     What is lightheartedness?

Let’s contrast heavyhearted with lighthearted. When someone announces unwelcome news, they will often begin with, “It is with a heavy heart that I inform you…”. When our hearts are heavy, we feel the weight of the world. It is like the windows of joy close. A melancholy sets in. It is a common response but it needn’t become a way of life.

Lighthearted people do not make light of the problem. They work to see the problem differently. Their first response to a house fire is “Was anyone hurt?” A lighthearted person looks for the stars in the darkness. A lighthearted person recognizes that it is never too late to be happy. They are not burdened with the expectation that everything needs to always go well or that everyone needs to be good natured all of the time.

     What do you do when you live with someone who is heavy hearted?

What is  annoying about someone saying to you “Lighten up?”. The unspoken message is, “Don’t feel what you are feeling.”

There are folks who, for various reasons, are not prepared to view their situation as anything but serious. They may be overwhelmed with grief or entrenched in righteous indignation about an injustice. Whatever their reasons, logical arguments usually fall on deaf ears.

Others truly need a non-judgmental listening ear. There is a temptation to want to lift them into the light, out of the darkness that they are wrestling with, by offering free unsolicited advice.

Some may need professional help if their heavy heartedness develops into depression.

It is important when living with someone heavy hearted to take care of your own well-being while accepting that your family member or friend is finding their own way through darkness.

     What are possible pathways to lightheartednes?

Sometimes, we can spontaneously enter the realm of lightheartedness. At other times, it takes intention and action to move towards a lighter place.

Mary Pipher in Women Rowing North suggests that we need “multiple reliable ways to cope with stress.” Many of us have temporary relief measures for heavy heartedness; we have ways of lifting our spirits, lightening our load. It could be music, being in nature, comfort foods, creative endeavors, or distraction. There are likely as many pathways as there are people.

     The pathway is a process.

The process begins with noticing. Notice what you associate with being heavyhearted. Is it certain people, a particular memory, a formidable challenge? What uplifts you? You may benefit from actually writing down your reflections on these questions.

Noticing leads to acknowledging what the situation is. There are many situations in life that are disheartening. There are expectations that are not met. There are people whose behavior has disappointed us. There are circumstances over which we do not have control. There are things that are not fair. There are times and events that temporarily imbalance our lives. It is simply a reality that we can be more lighthearted in some circumstances and with some people.

We have a choice. We can persistently mourn what cannot happen at this time, under this circumstance, or with this person. Or, we can begin to let go. Martha Pipher suggests that “In life, as in writing, it is as important to know what to delete as it is to know what to add”. The question, “What am I holding onto that is making me unhappy?’ is a good starting place.

     The prevention pathway

We can avoid heavyheartedness by limiting our exposure to negativity. For example, you may want to experiment with the occasional day without electronics. No news, phones, skype, zoom, television, or social media.

Look at the world through the lens of hope rather than despair. Watch the good news challenge on occasion. Choose reading that is uplifting. Choose friends who are empathic and productive. You don’t need a lot of “ain’t it awful” conversations. More “what if” talk keeps the focus on possibilities rather than on barriers.

Language is key. Using words and expressions like “on cloud nine”, “a happy camper”, and “over the moon”, can contribute to feeling lighter. Notice your language. Experiment with positive language when it is tempting to be negative. Call your stress, your growing edge. Call being put on hold on the phone, an opportunity to practice patience, or even take a mini vacation while you wait. Think of the delay as a gift. Thank the person who eventually gets to you.

     The humour pathway

It is okay to laugh. Even in grief, memories can generate laughter. Humour that has a twist often takes us to a place of lightheartedness.

Humour can generate a lightheartedness that can get us through a dark moment. For example, Norm’s black humour caught everyone off guard. After being told he had extensive and inoperable cancer, he responded, “You mean I ate all that broccoli for nothing!” It didn’t change the situation but it did change the mood of the moment.

     The pathway that involves people:

Most of us need at least one friend who we can call and say, “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”  You know that talking to that person will likely help lift the heaviness. You may or may not talk about what is contributing to your heaviness.

Are you that person for someone else?

Do you have a lighthearted mentor? When you think of someone who is lighthearted, who do you think of? Be specific. A neighbor, a grandmother, an uncle, a manager, a colleague? How old are they? How would you describe them to others? What do you notice that they do or say that encourages lightheartedness?

There is another way in which people uplift us. Sometimes it is important to transcend our situations and help someone else in some small way. It takes our focus off of ourselves. We might call it a “pathway of service”.

Children have no trouble being lighthearted. Do you have anyone who brings out the child in you? Over the years our child-likeness can fade. We don’t go to the silly well as often. It helps to have people who will go to the silly well with us.

The Silly Well

The drought of decades

has left me parched.

The well of silliness is dry.

I no longer see fairies dancing on daffodils.

I no longer hear orchestras in the forest.

I no longer imagine magic carpets

carrying me to Camelot.

I miss the silly well

blessed with the silly spell

that made life lighter.

Made hardship livable.

Made strangers, friends.

Made mountains into molehills.

Made tedium into adventure.

I miss the silly well.

You see –

To go to the silly well

you must take a friend.

I cannot go

to the silly well


                                                              Sarah Jane Pennington

     The Gratitude Pathway

There is a surge of websites, books, blogs, and research that focus on gratitude. There is no question that people who routinely express gratitude, despite their circumstances fare better physically and emotionally. Imagine and record some of the things that have warmed your heart.

     The Reflective Pathway

You might call this the pathway with a pen. Courtney Carver, author of Soulful Simplicity who lives with multiple sclerosis says, “I put my heart on paper first. I write it all down. Even if it sounds messy, I don’t judge. I just write.”

Just writing often takes us to such questions as, “What am I taking so seriously that I am willing to forego my sense of wellbeing?” How did heavyheartedness take over my day? Is it taking over my life? How am I spending my time? What am I thinking, feeling, or doing that makes this better or worse? How can I plan a day with increased joy and meaning?

Recommended Reading

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

On the outside, this author had it all, but she knew something was missing. To respond to that nagging feeling, that absence of lightheartedness, she set out on a year-long quest to better enjoy the life she already had. Bit by bit, she began to appreciate and amplify the happiness in her life. Written with a sense of humor and with insight, the Gretchen Rubin’s story is inspiring. It is a reminder of how to have fun.

The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.

Are you caught in pursuing happiness rather than experiencing it? This author offers insights and techniques that invite readers to do something differently. It is a great book to read with your journal right beside you to respond to the questions and suggestions.


In this New York Times article, the author reports the effect on happiness in several studies including struggling college and marital couples.

Writing Strategy of the Month

Contrasting Strategy 

Contrasting is a writing strategy that gives us an opportunity to see the world through different lenses. You can contrast different kinds of people. You can contrast the difference between two events. You can contrast best and worst scenarios.

For practice, just write about one of the most lighthearted situations you have ever experienced. Be sure to share the who, what, why, where, and when of the situation. Tell the reader any detail you can remember including colors, smells, textures, and sounds.

Then just write about one of the most disheartening situations you have ever experienced. Be sure to share the who, what, why, where, and when of the situation. Tell the reader any detail you can remember including colors, smells, textures, and sounds.

Then reflect on how you felt in each of the situations and how you felt even as you wrote them. What did you notice about lightheartedness contrasted with heavy heartedness?

Photo Question of the month

What two contrasting occasions might have prompted the feelings engendered in you by the balloons?

Using contrasting, write about two circumstances that may have prompted the balloon scene. Include the who, what, where, why, and when for both. Example: One circumstance may engender heartache, while the other may engender lightheartedness.

Then write about how you felt about each situation and how your felt as you wrote about each situation.



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