Discipline and Reward


April, 2017


Professor of Self Care: Martha S. Clark

My mother was a sun fanatic. This passion started young, long before it was understood how damaging the sun could be, and persisted until her final days in 2008. We know, now, that sunshine is a great source of Vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones. But we also know that excessive exposure to those magnificent rays can be both damaging and dangerous.

Mom did start using sunscreen, eventually, but her wrinkled skin was evidence of many hours of basking. Sure, she liked having a tan, and felt it made her look better. But the more I think about what drew her to this activity, the more I suspect the appeal was that sunbathing gave her an opportunity to stop, rest, and maybe even take a short snooze. The sun restored her energy. It was her reward for being the role model in our family for getting things done. Here’s how we rolled in the Clark household: if the optimal sunbathing hours were from Noon to 2:00pm, we scurried around to get our household chores done in the morning. All that activity stopped when we stepped outside, sat on a chaise lounge, or headed to the beach. Replenished by our time in the sun, there were more chores and errands to do afterward.

Now what does this have to do with cultivating joy, you might ask? My vote: everything.

You could say Mom taught me to relish the sun but you would be missing part of her lesson. What Mom modeled was a healthy interplay between discipline and reward, or between activities we must do and those that are optional, but crucial. Mom was my Professor of Self Care. For her, self care was pretty simple to define. Give her sun, sand, and ocean, and she was set. For the rest of my family, self care activities varied but the outcome was the same: each of us learned how to recharge our batteries. Whether it was voracious reading, or I Love Lucy re-runs, or laying on the couch and watching sports, the result was the same. We figured out how to get rest and reward despite the demands of our lives. Were all of us as disciplined as Mom? No way. But we all got the reward part of the equation down!

This is not a one-size-fits-all prescription for time in the sun. Instead, it is a nudge to identify those rewarding activities that take care of us so we can do the stuff that requires discipline and hard work with more vitality. But we cannot stop there: how will we make those rewarding activities part of our daily routine? Isn’t it just as important to exercise discipline in this realm, too? What will be our equivalent of Mom’s time-out in the sun? Perhaps the prospect of cultivating more joy by doing these activities will be a major motivator. Hope so.


Comments on this blog post are welcome — see the bottom of this page.

Prompts for Joy

Click here for a dance that is sure to be uplifting.

(Big thanks to Claudette Bergman for sending this one my way.)

Click here for a little bit of hummingbird medicine.

(Thank you, Amber Sumrall.)

Click here for all previous Prompts for Joy.

Pictured Above

Martha’s Mom basking at the beach. Photo by Geoffrey Clark.


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