"I saw this and it made me think of you," a friend said a year ago, handing me a cheery ceramic unicorn in the shape of a mini flower pot. A succulent was growing like a mane across its back. Along its side were the words, "Don't let anyone ever dull your sparkle." She wasn't aware of it at the time, but I'd just started writing Llewellyn's Little Book of Unicorns, and the synchronicity couldn't have been more perfect; this succinct message was the very heart of the book.
Unicorns are said to be courageous, fierce, and wild while also being gentle, compassionate, harmonious, and full of grace. They're passionate about themselves and the happiness of those around them. They're a symbol for standing out in all your uniqueness and being loved as your authentic self.
Sometimes we lose track of that authentic piece of ourselves, though. We grow up hearing subliminal (or even very direct) messages that tell us it's not okay to be who we really are, and we end up hiding our true selves away. Often we hide ourselves so well that we forget things we love and what makes us feel fully alive.
I remember when I first started dating my husband he would ask what I wanted to do and I would say that whatever he was interested in was fine. "But what do you like doing?" he asked in frustration one day. I stopped in my tracks, lost as to what my answer was. What did I like? Somewhere along the way I'd lost myself so much that I couldn't even respond to the seemingly simple question of what made me happy. It would take another twenty years and a dive into the world of unicorns before I could really figure it out.
What makes you shine? What brings you exuberant joy? If you've lost sight of those things, it's time to take a cue from our unicorn friends and find your sparkle. Here are five tips to get your started.
Tip #1: Find What's Blocking You
Write down the top blocks that may be holding you back from a more joyful experience. Try to think of things on which you're spending your time that don't really inspire you. These are areas where you can stop devoting your attention in order to make more time for things you're actually passionate about. Some examples include watching too much tv, spending time with people who deplete energy, or overworking and not allowing yourself enough rejuvenating down time. Like skimming through the closet to declutter your clothes, if you search hard enough you're likely to come up with at least a few ideas for where you can create space for things that make you feel inspired and alive.
Tip #2: Embrace Being Playful
No matter your age, playing is important, and breathes new life into the humdrum of everyday. Too often, as adults we get caught in our daily patterns: wake, get ready for the day, work, traffic, errands, home-tasks, bed. We need a reminder to shake things up and figure out how to insert playfulness into everyday schedules. Whatever these playful activities might be, they should get you really excited and leave you smiling. Maybe you decide to write one daily poem, so that throughout the day you're watching for inspiration worth writing about. Or maybe you decide to dust off your bike and take a ride on your favorite nature path every few days. One of my "embracing play" items was pulling out a giant sticker book I had as a kid and consistently adding to the collection. There are so many possibilities!
Tip #3: Figure Out Where Your Sparkle is Stuck
Usually there's a key time period where we've left our sparkle, and we need to return to that source. For many this ends up being some point in childhood. The good thing is that we can go back and reclaim those things that we've left behind. The bad thing is that this can be a challenge to pin down! Luckily, there are certain things to which we can pay attention that will help clue us into our joyful treasures. These include:
- Gifts we give others. We often end up giving away the things we love most, thinking that if we can't enjoy it then someone should. Is it puzzles, coloring books, board games, or bouquets of flowers? See if some of the things you're gifting away are things you should be sharing with yourself, as well.
- Things we find nostalgic. What makes you fawn over the past? Write a list of things you especially loved doing in years past and pick at least one item to bring back into your present!
- Our wants and desires. Be mindful of when you feel that pull within you saying, "I would really love to do/be/experience/have xyz." We often get in a pattern of denying ourselves, but within these wants and desires you might realize things that will set your sparkle meter to full-on shine.
Tip #4: Look Into the Darkness in Order to Really Shine
Unicorns are the elusive keepers of the dark forest. To move through our own shadowy experiences and find our way back in the light, we may need to rebuild trust in ourselves, others, and life itself before we're able to appreciate the opportunities for joy in our lives. Things that can help support your journey through the forest include:
- Talking with a friend, loved one, or professional therapist. Seek out the unicorn-people in your life. Look for those you're inspired by and find support when you need it. There's no reason to go it alone through dark times.
- Practicing nurturing self-care through things like balanced nutrition, a type of exercise you enjoy, getting enough sleep, work-life balance, and positive social interaction. Maybe this means reading before bed, taking a walk with a friend, or getting a monthly massage.
- Allowing yourself to play. When you're in darkness, the idea of "play" may feel like hollow action, but just try it. There's a practice called Laughter Yoga that can feel silly and false at first, but after a while of "fake laughing," the body thinks it's real and sends out feel-good hormones along with creating new positive neuropathways in the brain. Our physiology can follow intention and action. Pull out a coloring book, put together a puzzle, drive around a remote-controlled car, or dance around the room with your dog. You may be surprised with what a boost play ends up being for you.
Tip #5: Add Extra Glitter
Intentionally act to add in extra glitter to your life. This is like laying down a trail to lead magic your way. There are endless things you can try to increase your level of happiness. Some ideas include:
- Spending time with animals
- Engaging in creative activity
- Social connection and community
- Getting out in nature
- Practicing acts of kindness
- Consciously looking for beauty as you go about your days
- Intentionally seeking out pleasurable and fun activities
- Feeding whatever fills you with meaning or purpose
- Attending to a practice that makes you feel spiritually connected
The world needs you for all the goodness and glitter that you are. Follow this unicorn-inspired wisdom to rediscover wonder and happiness. My hope is that these tips will lead you to a place of authentic joy and all the things that make you shine!