Replace Your Shadow Comforts with Joy Snacks

Here’s an antidote to an ever-stressful, busy, and uncertain world. Try finding and savoring little bites of joy in your day. I call them “joy” snacks. By mindfully tuning into the pleasant, nice, and sometimes routineexperiences of every day, we can transform an otherwise mundane moment into something more meaningful and even joyful.” Richard Sima 

If you prefer to listen

Last time we talked about shadow comforts, the substitutes for fulfilling our needs that bring us instant gratification, but don’t really fill our needs. If we investigate our shadow comforts, we can reveal the unmet needs that are driving these unhealthy habits. We can see why we live life feeling like something is missing, that this moment is not enough.

Letting go of shadow comforts does not mean we should not seek pleasure. Setting aside time for simple pleasures can provide you with moments of joy. You will find “joy snacks” in self-care, connecting with other people, reconnecting with the goodness in yourself, taking in the good, experiencing awe or gratitude. Each time you eat a joy snack, you are giving yourself the gift of emotional nourishment. And if you share your joy snacks with those you care about, you will forge even stronger bonds, a happier partnership. 

One way to create more joy snacks in your life is to take in the good, by savoring momentary pleasures. Having a gratitude practice helps us to notice the joy snacks already in our lives. The more grateful you are, the more likely you are to feel joy in the future. Research shows that joy is strongly associated with well-being, thus essential to flourishing. 

Be careful as our desires for pleasure are marbled, a combination of healthy and not so healthy. Often, we are either in conflict or we are promoting ourselves when we are not aligned with our truest self. When we are promoting ourselves, we are trying to acquire money, status, power, possessions, or approval. When we are in conflict, we are trying to defend ourselves, and win the conflict. When we are conflicted or promoting ourselves, we use shadow comforts.

If we feel unsafe, we may seek power or money; if we feel unloved, we may constantly seek approval or pile up accomplishments in the hope of winning affection. And if our needs have been radically unmet, our fixations can take over. Desire turns into craving and addictive behavior.” Tara Brach

We need to look closely to see if the pleasure we are seeking is a joy snack or a shadow comfort. If we are using the pleasure to cover over discomfort, it is a shadow comfort. This intensifies the desire.

To uncover the needs covered up by shadow comforts, look at whether you are being driven by your ego or your authentic self. The ego’s intention is to defend against threats or problems, to promote our self-interests, to secure our attachments, to make ourselves feel better. Your authentic self’s aspirations can take different shapes such as:

  • I want to love without holding back.
  • I really want to know truth, reality.
  • I want to feel peaceful.
  • I want to live in an authentic, creative way.

With our authentic self’s aspiration, we always want to manifest fully to who we are. We are not looking for something outside ourselves. So, we don’t need shadow comforts.

To hear your needs, you need to sit still and get very quiet so you can hear your inner voice. Your inner critic talks very loud, but your inner nurturer whispers. You must reduce the volume of your mental chatter so you can hear the message trying to get through. Occasionally you will be lucky enough to have an answer pop right up. Just be sure the answer comes from your authentic self and isn’t another “should” from your inner critic. 

We use shadow comforts to numb out or cover over because we are rejecting who we are. We are judging ourselves for not being someone more or better. Often our cravings begin with a form of self-judgement. Thinking we are not good enough.  To let go of our shadow comforts, we need to let go of the belief that we are not enough or that we are not worthy.

The two most powerful forms of connection are love and belonging—they are both irreducible needs of men, women, and children. As I conducted my interviews, I realized that only one thing separated the men and women who felt a deep sense of love and belonging from the people who seemed to be struggling for it. That one thing was the belief in their worthiness. It’s as simple and complicated as this: If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.” Brene Brown

Many of us don’t feel worthy, so we cannot accept the joy snacks of connection and belonging. When we feel we are worthy, we don’t need to cover up our vulnerability, and we open to joy snacks. But remember:

Shadow comforts can take any form. It’s not what you do; it’s why you do it that makes the difference. You can eat a piece of chocolate as a holy wafer of sweetness—a real comfort—or you can cram an entire chocolate bar into your mouth without even tasting it in a frantic attempt to soothe yourself—a shadow comfort.” Jennifer Louden

The same thing can be a shadow comfort or joy snacks. Savoring a piece of chocolate is a joy snack. But inhaling the chocolate to make ourselves feel better is a shadow comfort. Reading, movies or music can be used as an escape, or as a pleasure.

To turn a shadow comfort into a joy snack takes two things: intention and attention. If the Intention is to cover discomfort or fix yourself, it is a shadow comfort. If the intention is simply to bring more joy to your life, it is a joy snack.  But intention is not enough.  We also have to pay attention. If we don’t pay attention while eating the chocolate, we finish and want more. But if we pay attention and savor while eating the chocolate, we feel nourished.

So next time you reach for a shadow comfort, look at why you are reaching for it. You can choose the chocolate with full knowledge that it will not dispel your loneliness. And by savoring every bite, you give yourself the emotional nourishment of a joy snack. You need to feel you are worthy of the joy snack.

I have spent the last two years saying the mantra, “I am worthy, I am enough, my needs matter.” Recently I realized that I was no longer saying the mantra, and that I no longer needed to keep telling myself I was worthy, because I now believe it. And now that I feel worthy, I don’t need to cover up.

I have dropped the idea that I need to be different than I am, that I need fixing. Now I can relax a little bit. That makes it easier for me to live in the present moment. I am not so restless, leaning forward to the next thing. And I have become aware of the joy snacks in my life. I don’t need chocolate to make me happy.  

We use joy snacks to create more joy in our lives and the lives of those we care for. One of your inner critic’s favorite tactics is “killjoy thinking.” “It might be nice out now, but it is going to get cold.” “I don’t deserve to be happy.” “If I enjoy this, it will just be taken away.” When our inner critic steals the joy snack out of our mouths, we experience disappointment, frustration, or discomfort.  Again, it comes back to feeling worthy. Just by being a perfectly imperfect human being you are worthy of all the joy snacks that come your way.

It is also important not to fall prey to what some psychologists have called “killjoy thinking,” which actively inhibits enjoyment by neutralizing positive moods. For example, watching a beautiful sunset with a loved one but only focusing on how cold it is about to get is tantamount to stealing a joy snack right out of your own mouth.” Richard Sima 

Watch out for your inner critic stealing the joy snack right out of your mouth. Your critic may be telling you that you don’t deserve that pedicure, the walk in nature. It may tell you you can’t take time for yourself until you have filled all the needs of your family and friends.

Mindfulness helps us to see that the rewards promised by shadow comforts often don’t come to fruition. And that we deserve to savor every joy snack that comes our way. To ensure you fill your life with joy snacks and not shadow comforts, ask yourself:

Are my choices comforting and nourishing my spirit, or are they temporary reprieves from vulnerability and difficult emotions ultimately diminishing my spirit? Are my choices leading to my Wholeheartedness, or do they leave me feeling empty and searching?” Brene Brown