By Gareth Andrews



My piece of heaven on earth during the past 18 months in Melbourne has been the marvellous Fitzroy Gardens, immediately adjacent to the city’s CBD. This major Victorian era setting has become my new exercise venue, and a place where my soul can be recharged. It is my salvation, my reparation, my counsellor. Early mornings twice a week with my trainer Emma (when allowed) and my mate Ray ( when allowed!) have been a God-send. In bleak times they have given me happiness and peace, as well as a chance for a good work out. Never to be left out has been my black pug, Wednesday. And yes, that’s her name! 

The autumnal beauty in the Gardens is extra special. Crisp sunny coolish days and even light rain bring their own atmosphere. But there is nothing more beautiful than the magnificent trees, particularly the mighty deciduous English Oaks, English Elms and London Planes. The gnarled Oaks are glorious in their nakedness and the carpet they throw out from their falling leaves is spectacular.

And therein lies this story. Dog Wednesday discovered the thrill of burying herself in the latest fall, practising cartwheels, spins, and all measures of joyousness. Joining her and being part of her fun was a moment for me when my own world stopped. My mental world. My thinking world. It opened my own world to pure joy. It was spontaneous. 

Joy is hard to explain as it comes from an internal place. It is an event. It is an experience. It happens to you, and you alone. It’s an engagement between your senses and your feelings. Others can witness it but never see it. Theirs is theirs and yours is yours. Joy is high energy and of shortish duration. But it does alter you in a way that you are not quite the same person as before. This is the key to this story. 

Many years earlier, not far from the Gardens, I was wandering through the MCG carpark after watching a game of football. I remember nothing of the day itself other than it was deep into the winter months. I do however remember the period of my life. It was a grim time for me, my own winter of discontent. I was bunkered down in my heavy overcoat, experiencing the smell of nature after a rain event, a natural occurrence that I have subsequently learned has a word of its own. Petricore. Suddenly my worry and anxiety was washed away by a moment that is still hard to describe. I felt warm, cocooned, safe, and somehow happy and lucky. It was fleeting but it has remained with me to this day, maybe 20 years on. It was joy. 

It’s hard to find joy in our COVID world, in our 21st Century world. Wherever we look there is doom, gloom, and disaster. There is chaos in our hearts and minds. It’s hard enough to get up, let alone get out. It’s easy to say “I’m over it, I can’t be bothered anymore.”

But that’s the point. We actually have to be bothered. Boredom, anxiety, despair and depression often accompany the absence of joy. Something has to change and my first two stories are all about getting outdoors. Putting yourself into a situation where it is more likely to happen. Slowing down your mind. No matter how else you feel, you’ll feel some level of rejuvenation.

I tried something earlier this week. I had spent a couple of weeks seeing the mainly housebound brigade heading off for coffee at the local. (It used to be the pub!) I realised there was a sameness about everybody beyond the ubiquitous mask. It was our clothing. I was part of the black brigade. Beanies, gym tops, tights, runners, and whatever else in between. Anything resembling grey was a refreshing change. Faces mirrored the general mood as the latest lockdown was cutting deeper into our psyches. On this particular morning I changed my mood by changing my clothes. Yellows, oranges and bright green gear were pulled out of my cupboard and as I dressed I experienced an instant high. It was a tweak of joy. It was as if I’d opened a window to allow a sliver of sunshine in- metaphorically of course. It was a spontaneous action and led to an openness to experience joy. It was simple. Of course, the coffee crew had a positive reaction. It mightn’t have been joy but perhaps a measure of happiness. 

You certainly can’t invent joy as it’s a reaction to a circumstance. But if you have a crack at the circumstance you never know what might eventuate. My mate Johnny lives in Lorne and has the Otways literally at his back door. I sneak down to visit him between lockdowns!! All kosher. Easter was a great time to visit but the weather attracted masses to the beaches. We decided to drive into the Otways instead. Johnny had his ‘secret pond’ little more than 10 kilometres from home. It was literally on the edge of the forest but you could have been deep inside. In classic Johnny style we bought a few sausages, threw in a cheap BBQ, wine and glasses and a couple of small deck chairs. Cheap and cheerful and very civilised. The drive was short and the immersion into nature was instant with hardly another car on the road. Johnny pulled up beside a small, grassy clearing with the little pond nestling in the shade alongside the road. Picturesque to say the least. We were soon seated, settled and cooking.

Then came the joy. There was action in the pond is how Johnny puts it. And for the next half an hour or so we focussed on the frog symphony. Joy had a fair chunk of bliss added in. Johnny pointed out the “voice” of the Geocrinia victoriana , the Eastern smooth froglet common to the area. Then he took out his Frogs of Australia App to prove he was right. It was a moment in time. The world stopped. It may be an experience rather than a state of mind but you become more open to it by putting yourself in situations where it is more likely to happen. When we left I had a bit of a hop in my step! 

So there we almost have it. Joy can suddenly come from nowhere but we have to try to put ourselves in a position when we are open to it.

One of ways is through Curiosity, particularly in the outdoors. Curiosity is a portal to our soul. When going outdoors, even on the briefest of occasions, lift your head high rather than looking at the ground or looking at your Social Media. Look at the sky, at day or night. Feel how small we really are in the scheme of things. Whistle a happy tune. 

Of course it can come more regularly through walking along the beach, going to a concert, meeting a special friend, reading a book. It can be hormone driven which brings libido into play. 

And here’s the last one I’d love to explore. I’ve had the joy of playing in a winning AFL (VFL at the time) Grand Final (I’ve also experienced the pain of playing in a losing one.) The moment when the siren sounded to end the game and the rest of the time out of the ground, receiving the Cup and running around the stadium with it, was Joy to the nth degree. In the rooms afterwards, my feeling was one of intense pleasure rather than joy. The pleasure was the memory of the experience rather than the experience itself. I’ve sometimes thought of Michael Tuck’s thoughts in  light of being a seven-time premiership-winning player with Hawthorn. Can you get so programmed to that sort of success that the spontaneity of joy diminishes? I suspected it would probably be a case of multiple joys. He’s the only one who’d know. I rang Tucky. His soulful voice paused and contemplated the memory. “Funny you know. There was always joy, but the level was always dependent on how well you played. It’s interesting that in the later GFs my joy was more for the younger players who’d not had the experience before.” And there you go. Levels of joy and types of joy. 

In essence, joy is simple. Joy is fleeting. Joy opens the heart, the mind and the soul to better things. It can give hope. In bad times as well as good. You never stop seeking it and finding it. It’s personal.

Author’s Bio
Gareth Andrews – Founder and Director of Life Again, a registered Not for Profit charity that educates and helps men to change and lead more fulfilling and purposeful lives. Through writing, public speaking, taking men to the Outback and working with Aboriginals, workshops and personally challenging men.