I’ve been thinking a lot about joy lately. I talk a lot about joy with clients, because I believe that experiencing joy is what people are really after, instead of the pursuit of happiness that is at the core of our American values.
Happiness is, by definition, a future-focused endeavor. So while we can notice feeling happy throughout the day, it is generally something that doesn’t stick around. When we focus on happiness, we are focused on where we want to be in the future – our goals for later. Often, that comes with a feeling of what we are “missing.” When we achieve the emotion of happiness, it is often fleeting, and relies upon external factors to line up at just the right time.
In other words, you can feel happiness when you notice that your kids are behaving and your house is clean, but as soon as you think of something that doesn’t fit into that happy picture, that emotion is gone.
Joy, however, is intrinsic and spiritual, and can be cultivated over time. We see joy within people when they spend time doing the things that they love. We see it when they walk out their purpose in life, and live congruently to the values that they believe in.
Joy is about right now. It is when you can look around at your life at any given moment and see the beauty, regardless of the circumstances you are living in, what you do or do not have, and without wondering “what if.”
So how do we increase our joy and stop pursuing the fleeting emotion of happiness?
1. Cultivate relationships.
This Harvard study is the longest study that has ever been done regarding human adult life. What did they find?
The secret to joy is in healthy relationships. Happy and healthy marriages have long been known to increase your life span, but not just that - having healthy and meaningful friendships has a similar effect.
“Those who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier, said Waldinger, and the loners often died earlier. ‘Loneliness kills,’ he said. ‘It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.’”
Cultivating relationships doesn’t always mean that you need to meet all-new friends. It often just means putting time and energy into the positive people that are in your life now, or setting boundaries with those that have a negative effect on your emotional well-being.
Sometimes, just a few negative people in your life can overpower the effects of the positive ones. Negativity can leave you feeling drained and without the time or energy to even seek out the more positive people you know. If just reading that brought a few names to your mind, you probably know exactly where to start.
What would happen if you spent just 30 minutes a day going out of your way to have a conversation with someone that you love? Even starting with an unsolicited text message or phone call can go a long way. Deeper connections will take time, but you also have to start somewhere.
2. Express gratitude.
Gratitude journaling is a practice that I recommend to all of my clients.
Even though it sounds overly simplistic (and is often greeted with eye rolls), it does something very important to your brain – it trains it, over time, to seek out the positive things, or to reframe negatives into positives.
As your brain learns to seek out these positive thoughts, it becomes better at it over time, which can actually create pathways in your brain that reinforce this positive thinking.
The key is to really process what makes you feel grateful. What truly made your day better? It can be as simple as the sunshine, or as complex as a deep conversation with a friend when you felt understood. The more heart you put into gratitude journaling, the more impactful it becomes for you.
And make it yours. If writing isn’t your thing, but drawing is, make it artsy. If writing things out is annoying, make a bulleted list. It’s yours – the only rule is the finding gratitude part!
3. Find levity.
In case you aren’t well-versed on words that I stole from the 1800s, some synonyms for “levity” would include: lightheartedness, high spirits, vivacity, liveliness, cheerfulness, humor, frivolity, glee, wit, etc.
We are often really good at focusing on what we need to make us happy, and working towards those goals, that we forget to have fun in the meantime.
Think of it this way: we are taught to work hard while we are young so that we can have money to have fun someday, probably when we retire. While this makes sense logically from a dollars perspective, realistically it doesn’t always make sense to postpone the things that we are essentially living our lives for until we are at a point that we can’t fully enjoy them.
This is not to say that those long-term goals aren’t important – but rather, finding balance with levity by practicing ongoing self-care, experimenting with old/new hobbies, and taking time for good, clean fun in our daily lives is equally important in order to embrace joy in our current, daily life.
This can help to reduce that burnout and “stuck in a rut” feeling that we can sometimes get.
The bottom line here is that while happiness is an emotion that can be fleeting, you can train yourself to experience joy every day, through working on your perspective and the lens that you view your life through. Building up your relationships, expressing gratitude, and finding small ways to have fun can help us live a life full of joy every single day.
Need more support than what a blog post will give you? Are you ready to make some mindset changes and learn how to cultivate joy in your life? Want to learn more about how you can get rid of those lonely feelings and dig deeper in your relationships? Contact me here to learn more about my services.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor serving South Carolina. She provides relationship and identity counseling online for busy moms and professionals. You can read more about her here.