4 Steps to Adding Joy to Your Life
By Alexandra Frost
Whether it comes from sharing an inside joke with your closest friends, or doing an activity you love, joy is a state of being most of us could use more of, especially right now. Joy—and the positive emotions that come with it—can improve your mental health, lower stress, and help you feel calm. Laughter in particular is a great way to help your brain pump out feel-good chemicals and lower stress-causing ones. The best news is you don’t have to feel joyful all the time (who does?). Feeling spurts of joy here and there can lessen the impact of negative thoughts and emotions, help us think more creatively, and feel better overall.
Here’s how to look for and find joy.
Step One: Check in With the Harder Things
“You can’t just ignore the really hard things that are going on in ourselves, and in our world,” says Janis Whitlock, PhD, director of Cornell University’s research program on self injury and recovery. “This is a hard time. If you’re not feeling happy, it’s not even that you’re not alone in that—it’s a normal human response to an extraordinary moment.” And, Whitlock says, you need to let yourself feel the difficult emotions before you can “move to a state of joy or feel it at times throughout your day.”
“Just acknowledging the obstacles you are going through will help on your journey toward joy,” says Whitlock. It also protects you from “toxic positivity” (you know, those “choose joy!” memes), which tries to use positive thinking to steamroll over the difficult, but perfectly natural, emotions we all have.
Step Three: Think Small
Some of the happiest times in our lives come from big moments—a family wedding, a first concert, a special trip, or even a memorable afternoon laughing with friends. Those are all valid and life-changing experiences, but they aren’t necessarily the source of day-to-day joy, says Anjali Ferguson, PhD, a culturally responsive clinical psychologist who works with families in Richmond, Virginia. Big events like weddings don’t happen very often, vacations and concerts are expensive, sometimes it’s hard to get together with friends, or other obstacles get in the way.
But smaller moments are available at any given time, are often free, and can just as easily create joy. Ferguson recommends focusing on these. “Sit down and pay attention to one thing that made you happy today,” she says. “It could be really small, like ‘Oh, I had my favorite dessert with lunch today.’” Pausing to be mindful of tiny wins like this can inspire you to seek out more of them. Do it again, and before long you have a series of small joyful moments that—through your lifetime—make up your happiness.