It’s safe to say that most of us would love more joy in our lives, particularly when it feels like the hours blend together into one big blur, and we find ourselves feeling blah.
Yet, do you know what brings you joy?
Sometimes, we can get so swept up in the daily hustle that we forget to ask ourselves this question—and we have no idea about the answer.
According to therapist Lynn Zakeri, LCSW, “joy is found in different ways by different people.”
She defines joy as “better than feeling good,” and “better than fun.” It’s forgetting about your stress and troubles, and being in the moment, truly enjoying yourself, she said. “Joy is memorable.”
Zakeri finds joy in laughing with loved ones. “The feeling of ‘you get me’ is all I need.”
Some of her clients at her Chicago private practice find joy in overcoming a challenge. For other clients, joy arises out of an experience, such as hiking or having a heart-to-heart with a friend.
For therapist Renee Cage-Watson, LCSW, joy resides in being at peace with who she is and her purpose. “I honor and own my story; therefore, I own my power to create the life I desire,” said Cage-Watson, owner of Empowered by Courage Counseling in San Leandro, Calif., who works with children, adolescents, families, and adults.
Similarly, Laura Trapani, LCSW, a therapist and owner of the Chicago private practice TherapyLink, noted that “joy is a natural feeling of euphoria that we are inherently born with and can cultivate throughout our lives if we stay true to ourselves.”
According to psychologist Jenn Hardy, Ph.D, therapists sometimes think of emotions as family trees. We can think of joy as a family on its own. “Within that family you’ll find bliss, exuberance, and delight. You’ll also find happy contentedness, enjoyment, and the happiness you feel when you find something to be really funny.”
When adding more joy to your life, the key is to pause for a bit, and get curious about your personal version of joy. Below, you’ll find a variety of ideas—but ultimately, of course, it’s up to you.
Care for yourself. For starters, “it’s hard for joy to poke through a thick blanket of exhaustion,” said Hardy, who runs a private practice in Maryville, Tenn. Which is why she stressed the importance of respecting our limits, communicating those limits to others, getting enough sleep, moving our bodies, taking breaks, and extending ourselves some grace.
Create an inventory. Cage-Watson asks her clients to create a list of big or small joyful activities, and do one of those activities every day. For instance, a joyful activity might be taking 5 minutes to make up a poem about your morning. It might be listening to music or a guided meditation. It might be watching a funny film with your spouse. It might be reading about the history of dinosaurs or the history of writing for 30 minutes. It might be waking up 20 minutes before your kids, and eating breakfast in bed.
Cultivate healthy relationships. Clinton Power, a clinical relationship counsellor and founder of Clinton Power + Associates in Sydney, Australia, emphasized the significance of relationships in affecting our mental health.
“When your relationships are poor, you may feel anxiety, depression, and ill-health. And when your relationships are going well—full of love, care, fondness, and trust—you will experience an overall feeling of wellbeing, hence, enhancing your capacity for joy.”
Power suggested spending fun, quality time with loved ones, along with quickly repairing any conflicts that come up.
Help others. “When we help others, we help ourselves,” Cage-Watson said. “Often the more one gives, the greater the feelings of gratification.” Cage-Watson’s clients have done everything from walking a sick neighbor’s dog to joining an anti-bullying advocacy group to participating in outreach work with their church. She used to volunteer at a safe house for women who escaped human trafficking.
If you’d like to volunteer, Cage-Watson recommended using the app VolunteerMatch, which matches you with volunteer opportunities based on your interests.
Jot down a gratitude list. Clinical psychologist Steven M. Yousha, PsyD. LCSW, encouraged readers to focus on what is going right in your life. Specifically, he said, create a list of things, people, places, and opportunities that you can be thankful for. He shared these examples: your home, health insurance, public parks, music, family, travel, a job promotion.
“Once you have that list, look at it several times per day to keep it more in awareness.”
Create joy around stress. “Notice what time of day you feel the most stressed and be mindful of what triggers it,” said Trapani, who specializes in working with individuals and families dealing with anxiety and depression related disorders.
Then add sparks of joy to those moments. For instance, she said, during the morning rush, pause for a few seconds to smile and thank the barista who makes your coffee; or before a tough meeting, send a quick email to a close friend you haven’t talked to in a while.
Connect to nature. If you live in a bustling city, Power suggested going on a day or weekend trip to a natural environment. If that’s not possible, sit on a park bench at lunchtime or take a walk, and note the different natural things you see. Or watch a sunrise or sunset, Cage-Watson said. Or look up at the night sky. As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote, “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore.”
Set boundaries around joyless habits. “We are a society obsessed with “finding happiness” and, yet, we are not a society that cultivates a lot of time for joy,” Trapani said.
“In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world it is easy to feel like you cannot leave any email unanswered or problem unsolved.” Many of Trapani’s clients are working parents who can’t stop thinking about work when they’re at home—and can’t stop working.
“All too often working parents are trying to get dinner ready, spend time with their kids, and answer work emails and texts all at once.”
Whether you’re a parent or not, setting boundaries around habits that trigger the opposite of joy is vital. For example, Trapani suggests her clients keep their phones in one area of the house—as though each cell phone were “a land line or a desktop computer with dial-up internet.” When her clients do this, they report feeling more present and in control.
Trapani also recommended deleting social media from your phone—another joyless habit for most of us. As she said, “there used to be a day when we could go through a breakup and not ever know what our ex was doing with their weekend, let alone their entire life. Before social media we did not know if we were not invited to an event or party on a Saturday night, because no one was live streaming the event as we sat at home and watched.”
Adding more joy to our days means thinking through what joy specifically looks—and tastes, smells, sounds, and feels—like to you. It also means identifying the habits that stress you out—and seeing how joy might live there, too.
Adding more joy to our days isn’t about chasing happiness. It isn’t about striving to only feel good, and dismissing the real pain that exists in our lives. Rather, it’s about empowering yourself. It’s about staying true to your desires and dreams. It’s about caring for yourself. It’s about creating, accessing, and acknowledging joy’s many forms—delight, contentment, satisfaction—in small, yet meaningful, ways.
Sometimes, this is as simple as pausing and opening our eyes.