Joy – it can seem a bit elusive, particularly now. Amidst the unprecedented upheaval all of us are currently experiencing, small wonder feelings of joy may be in short supply. So, maybe you’re trying to fill the shortfall with booze, sugar, anti-anxiety meds or recreational drugs. Understandable for sure, but we all know the elevating effects are fleeting, and the downsides, like hangovers, weakened immunity, dependence or even addiction, only make matters (and moods) worse. Hardly a joy recipe!
Instead of chemical assists, direct your attention to what you can control, like, whenever possible, cultivating joy. By connecting more often with feelings of pleasure, happiness, and contentment, you can make an enormous impact on your health and over-all mood. That’s why I encourage everyone to boost the presence of joy in their lives. Sound frivolous or self-indulgent? In these demanding times, I’d call it enlightened self-defense.
So, here are a few ways to up your dose:
Make time for joy.
In a perfect world, moments of joy would just happen on their own. These days, however, I suggest actually scheduling them and intentionally leaning into activities that enrich, refresh or renew your body or spirit. For example, if there’s a simple (healthy!) activity you enjoy doing that you can make time for every other day or so, carve out the time and put it on the calendar, literally. Even if it’s something as basic as a five-minute meditation, a few moments spent people-watching from your front porch, a quick morning jog or just watching the sun set – if it makes you feel peaceful and calm while you’re doing it, then it’s a joy-generator, and worth doing. Think of it as your scheduled safe harbor time, so that no matter what happens during the day, you know that you’re virtually guaranteed at least a few feel-good moments (and hopefully many more) each day.
Joy helps unleash your body’s chemical elixirs.
Some of the healthiest people I know are also the most joyous, so never underestimate the power of positive thinking! What you fill your head with and expose your mind to really does matter. Mean-spirited gossip, comments that sting, judginess and negative chatter? As amusing as you might think this is on the internet, all that noise is just emotional and physical junk food. You can feed on it, but you won’t thrive. But, when you clear the negativity out of the mental cabinet and restock it with more uplifting, inspiring, positive fare, the resulting good feelings trigger chemical changes that are good for you. They encourage the release of brain chemicals like proenkephalin, dopamine and serotonin, all of which help boost immunity and tame inflammation. And those good feelings and positive vibes coursing through you will also help limit the release of cortisol – your primary stress hormone – and help keep diabetes, obesity and heart disease at bay.
Let happiness in – and filter the other stuff.
Leaning into joy doesn’t mean that you should chase the high of wonderful feelings non-stop. As with most things, there’s a natural ebb and flow, but there’s nothing wrong with stacking the joy deck a bit. Start by turning the volume down on stuff – media, people, activities, you name it – that sucks the life out of you and deflates your mood. Instead, invest your energy in activities that uplift, inspire and/or invigorate you. It might be an outdoor, socially-distant yoga class, a few episodes of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, a hike with your honey or a walk with your dog – whatever works for you – as long as the result is buoyed spirits and a more joyful perspective, at least for a time.
Take joy lessons from the happiness pros.
There are a million self-help and how-to books on how to cultivate joy, but one of the greats would have to be The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by Nobel Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, two men who have spread more profound joy and wisdom around the world than virtually anyone in modern history. And they’ve both done so despite lives riddled with incredible pain and adversity, somehow finding joy in the darkness. And never has their wisdom been more timely. My advice? If you need a joy infusion, spend an afternoon in a hammock downloading the teachings of these two masters and you’ll have all the inspiration you need to upgrade your joy skills, as well as your mental and physical health. Guaranteed you won’t get that scrolling endlessly through your social media feed!
Set your default setting to ‘joy.’
Not everyone is naturally joyful. Most of us have to work at it a bit, and practice makes perfect. Happiness is a habit and you can train yourself to do, starting with awareness. By taking that extra second to default to joy (if that’s not your natural setting) you can train yourself to make joy something closer to your new normal rather than a once-in-a-blue-moon affair. To get in on the action and start working out your happiness muscle(s), try incorporating a few of these tried and true joy-boosting maneuvers:
- Start your day off on the right foot – with a few sun salutations or any brief a positive ritual, for example meditation, prayer, any soothing activity, to set the tone for the day ahead.
- “Make a note of it,’ – and catalogue joyous moments in a journal, on your Outlook, Gmail, ICal or wherever. If you like long form, then go full journal style (though some find them harder to maintain.) If you lean more toward the short and sweet style, then just a sentence or two may be enough to help you focus on the positive moments, even if they’re tiny ones.
- Distribute your joy freely – by sharing it through kind words or caring, giving acts, given without expectation of anything in return. Something as simple holding a door open or a smile aimed at someone who looks like they could use one can uplift both them and you.
- Practice responding joyously – when negativity rears its ugly head, let compassionate (or in a pinch, neutral) responses take the lead. Escalating bad feeling (particularly these days) is an instant joy-killer for all.
- Learn to truly forgive – to let go of grudges, past transgressions and hurts. By all means, learn from those less than stellar moments, but release the anger that accompanies them to relieve your mind and support your body. It will make cultivating joy across all aspects of your life that much easier.
- Up your fun quotient – trying new things that stretch you physically, mentally and creatively to relieve stress and trigger the release of feel-good endorphins. If it makes you glow from the inside out, that’s a joy-generator, and certainly a keeper!
- Spread the joy of Ubuntu – the African concept that means, “I am because you are.” By keeping this idea of connection and interconnection in your heart throughout the day, you can multiply your joy and spread it to others, creating bridges between people instead of chasms – something the world needs most right now.