A short guide to finding the joy in life
Focus on joy not happiness
If I had a dollar for every time a client said “I just want to feel happy” I would be typing this from a swanky hotel room in Port Douglas instead of my office. We are not destined to be happy all the time. Life is meant to be ups and downs, with only glimmers of glitter and unicorns. The key to feeling happier about your life is to focus on the moments of joy in life.
Without further ado, here is my helpful guide to finding more joy in your life.
Firstly, what is the difference between joy and happiness?
Researchers have worked long and hard to distinguish between joy and happiness. According to Stephanie Colliers on Harvard Health:
“happiness technically refers to the pleasurable feelings (emotions) that result from a situation, experience, or objects, whereas joy is a state of mind that can be found even in times of grief or uncertainty”.
Note that last bit… “even in times of grief or uncertainty”.
It is possible to find glimmers of joy amongst the festering turds that life throws at you.
Happiness is a state of positive emotion. It is usually based on a judgement about your life and where you are at.
Whereas joy can be thought of as a burst of positive emotion that may only be momentary. E.g. seeing a full rainbow, or that first taste of a good Gin.
I particularly like this definition of joy from designer Ingrid Fetell-Lee in her book “Joyful”:
“broadly speaking, when psychologists use the word “joy”, they mean an intense, momentary experience of positive emotion, one that can be recognised by certain telltale signs: smiling, laughing, and a feeling of wanting to jump up and down. While contentment is curled up on the sofa, and bliss is lost in tranquil meditation, joy is skipping, jiving, twirling and giggling. It is a uniquely exuberant emotion, a high-energy form of happiness.”
You feel joy in your body
Joy is usually experienced as an upwelling of energy in the body and a desire to jump up and down, to bounce and leap.
Joyful movements are upright and expansive. Arms are outstretched or fist pumping the air above you! You literally take up more space.
“the signature expression of joy: a full-body jumping gesture, arms stretched overhead, chest open and gaze lifted, as if you had just thrown confetti into the air.” Kelly McGonigal Phd in “The Joy of Movement”.
(I always think of the ‘Toyota leap’.)
Joy is characterised by a sense of lightness, aliveness and vitality. With additional laughter, glee and perhaps even a smidge of rebellion!
Focus on moments of joy, not the state of happiness
Even if your life is a total sh*tshow, focus on creating – and experiencing – moments of joy.
Here are some moments of joy that people have reported to me:
- Hanging out with my cousins anytime, anywhere – but preferably with champers (that’s mine!)
- The first sip of a good Scotch
- My first kayak in a gazillion years and it was so much FUN!
- Hiking for three days in Nepal’s Annapurna region under dust-filled skies with people walking the other way saying they hadn’t seen the mountains for weeks. That night it rained and the next morning I awoke to my friend screaming ‘oh my god guys get out here, now!!!’ And the sky had cleared and the mountains towered above us everywhere!
Notice that these moments were not necessarily very long in duration. Some of them were fleeting, but they created that intense, surge of joy that is memorable years later.
7 suggestions for creating moments of joy in your life
Notice what (or whom) makes you laugh. Laughter is a symptom of fun and joy. What could you do to prioritize more laughter in your life?
What are your favorite comedies? Here are a few Netflix suggestions in case you’re drawing a blank:
- Schitt’s Creek
- Kim’s Convenience
- Kath & Kim
And on Prime: The Boys (so wrong but so funny)
The company you keep
Whilst joy can be experienced on your own, you might be someone who finds joy in being with others. Who would you want to hang out with?
Avoid the misery guts/energy vampires who will bring you down. (Maybe you can cope with them on certain days when you have more energy to spare.)
Look for novelty
Your brain LOVES novelty. Doing something new releases dopamine, the reward neurotransmitter, which makes you feel Joy with a capital J.
So why not try something new or do something you already know in a different way?
Remember your childhood dreams
Remember what you used to do as a kid and try that. What did you love doing? What did you dream of doing?
Could you summon 60 seconds of courage and try it?
Try gratitude journalling each evening to focus your mind on the positive things that have happened to you, no matter how small. It’s going to help train your brain to focus on the positive moments in your day rather than the elements of clusterfork.
Certain colours invoke a big bubble of joy just looking at them. Yellow and orange bring energy. Red has a sense of danger or sexiness. Barbie pink makes us think of play.
Selecting colours to wear or have around your home can significantly impact your mood and sense of well-being. So bust out those purple heels and that cherry red dress you stone-cold-fox!
There’s a whole science around the psychology of colour, and how you can use it to inform your mood or what you want to convey. I particularly enjoyed these talks and books:
- “Where joy hides and how to find it” TED Talk by Ingrid Fetell-Lee
- Ingrid’s book “Joyful”
- and “The Little Book of Colour: How to Use the Psychology of Colour to Transform Your Life” by Karen Haller.
Move your body
You experience the world through your physical body. Your sense of vitality comes from movement and connecting with other humans.
If you reduce the movement, or disconnect from your body that’s a surefire recipe for feeling lifeless, sluggish and colourless. Half-dead.
Movement does not need to mean triathlons, unfortunate swimming hats or attending gyms full of folk preening inflated muscles in front of the mirror.
Movement means simply moving your body. Not necessarily ‘exercise’ as it may have been sold to you in our culture. Breathing is movement. Changing your posture is movement.
What if you could find pleasurable ways of moving your body, getting some health benefits and making a massive difference to your stress levels and mental wellbeing?
Any movement – whether it is simply moving your body through the environment you’re in or whether you’re dancing – will improve your mood because repeated muscle contraction releases myokines which scientists are now calling ‘hope molecules’. Meaning you will feel more joy and positivity just from moving.
Any simple movement will increase your sense of joy! Go for it!
I hope you enjoyed this little guide to finding more joy in life.