Sometimes, we make the mistake of thinking that joy only resides in the big things. Birthdays. Baby showers. Weddings. Holidays. Vacations. Even weekends. But we can cultivate joy every day. We don’t have to wait for momentous once-a-year or once-a-week occasions. Below, two therapists share their strategies — some of which might be very familiar and others which just might surprise you.
Get enough sleep
You might not equate sleep with joy. But when you don’t get enough sleep, your ability to manage emotions diminishes, said Erica Reischer, Ph.D, a psychologist, parent educator and author of the forthcoming book What Great Parents Do: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Fantastic Kids. “You might do or say things you’ll later regret.” Even sleeping 30 minutes less than you need can lead to emotional (and cognitive) impairment, she said.
Generally, people need 6 to 9 hours of sleep. The key is to realize just how vital sleep is and to prioritize it. If you’re having trouble sleeping or have insomnia, this treatment and tips can help.
“I think the most important variable for finding and maintaining joy is listening to one’s longings and responding with love,” said Lanie Smith, MPS, ATR, a registered art therapist who helps individuals cultivate satisfying and joyful lives. That requires regular downtime. How do you listen to your yearnings? You might meditate, pray or journal.
Move your body
“If we could put exercise in a pill, everyone would take it,” Reischer said. Moving our bodies creates joy in the moment and over the long run because it enhances our health, she said. The key is to pick activities that are, well, joyful. This might be anything from dancing in your living room to taking a hike to hula-hooping to trying a yoga class to swimming.
Moving your body isn’t meant to be a punishment or chore or another task for your already too-long to-do list. Rather, these activities make you feel alive. They’re activities you genuinely enjoy.
Connect with nature
Smith defined joy as “a positive state of well-being where you can feel your connection to something larger and so expansive you rest freely and breathe easy.” Which aptly describes being in nature. As she also said, “Nature has a way of inviting joy through the senses.”
Pay attention to the sights, sounds, scents and tastes of your natural surroundings. You also might take a stroll, sit outside or collect petals, pebbles or other materials to create art, she suggested.
Strengthen your relationships
The better our relationships, the happier we are, Reischer said. Try not to let social media replace in-person contact, she said. Meet a friend for lunch or a walk. Call your grandmother every Sunday to catch up. Work out with your spouse. Think about one thing — even a tiny thing — you can do every day to cultivate your most important relationships.
Get in the zone
“Joy is a flavor of happiness,” Reischer said. That’s why she suggested readers experience “flow” (or mastery), which research has found is important for achieving true happiness. This is when we use our skills to meet challenges, and those challenges grow as our skills do. It’s also when we become so engaged in what we’re doing that we lose track of time.
Anyone can experience flow. You just need to find something that interests or enthralls you. That might be a sport, an instrument or an art form. What are you curious about? What sounds like a fascinating endeavor? What have you always wanted to try? What’s a process you’d like to explore?
“Children are especially attuned to the experience of joy through play,” Smith said. No matter how old you are, you haven’t lost that desire for play either. Play means we’re not concerned about being productive or getting results or being judged. When we relinquish the need for expected outcomes, we experience joy, she said.
For you, play might be singing, skipping, snapping photos, cooking, coloring or creating stories. Even 10 minutes a day can feel joyful. Pick activities that sound like fun to you. Experiment, and get messy.
Be of service
Our truest happiness experiences occur when we have a higher purpose and serve others, Reischer said. Service is another dimension of happiness that researchers have identified. This might include volunteering in your community, helping someone cross the street, smiling at a stranger, and feeding an almost empty parking meter.
“Ideally you have a bigger picture purpose, and small activities to do day-to-day that add up to that larger mission,” Reischer said. So ask yourself: What is my bigger picture? What little things can I do every day that serve others?
For some of us, this will be connected to our work. But you don’t have to be a nurse on the front lines to make a difference, Reischer explained. “You can reframe your job to be of service.” If you’re a toll worker, your mission might be to leave people feeling better as they drive away. So you smile at every driver and wish them a great day. “However, you’re spending your time, you can still affect people positively.”
“Without active wounds from the past and defensive layers of negative energy, you are free to be who you really are,” Smith said. “This is the ultimate experience of joy.” For instance, Smith has clients write a letter to someone spilling their raw thoughts and feelings. Then they decide which parts they’d like to share. You also can express yourself through different art forms or work with a therapist.
Again, you can cultivate joy in the small moments of your days. But remember that it’s perfectly normal to experience a range of emotions. “All of our feelings are human, and we need to experience all of them,” Reischer noted. “They’re all adaptive.” Of course, even when you’re going through a rough time, it helps to focus on meaningful activities — like the ones above — but avoid pressuring yourself to feel something you’re not feeling.
Wavebreak Media Ltd/Bigstock