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  • Writer's pictureGayle Scroggs

Five Proven Ways to Add Abundant Joy to Your Year

Would you like to create a joyful upward spiral in 2023? Experiment with these five proven tips for adding delight to each day. When Southwest cancelled my flight, I put them to the test...

​Instead of flying home the day after Christmas, I found myself with extra days in Santa Fe, New Mexico, courtesy of Southwest Airlines. This gave me ample opportunity to savor daily delights of green chili burritos, stunning sunsets, snowy peaks, and just hanging out with kinfolk. I can testify that these simple, tested joy strategies work as well there as they do here at home in Chesapeake country. They’ll work for you too, wherever you find yourself this year!

Have winter doldrums begun to cast a long shadow over your new year? Does the good cheer of the holiday season seem a distant memory?

What if joy could be part of your entire year—not something that disappears along with used wrapping paper and greeting cards?

“Joy may be hard to define, but through the ages sages have contended that we know it when we experience it, and we know it when we lose it,” says Robert Emmons, Ph.D., in a special issue on joy of the Journal of Positive Psychology. Unlike happiness, joy has received little attention from research until now. And the results are startling.

Feeling joy turns out to be strongly associated with subjective well-being and flourishing, asserts Philip Watkins, Ph.D., a psychologist who studies joy, gratitude and happiness at Eastern Washington University. Joy, he explains, is a distinctive positive emotion that occurs when we experience a connection with something or someone that matters to us. Watkins and his colleagues have found that gratitude and joy combine to create a positive upward spiral that enhances well-being.

We tend to reserve feelings of joy for sporadic major events, e.g., holidays, birthdays, graduations, promotions. Think Joy with a capital J.

What event last sparked joy for you? What are you waiting for now?

“We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” ~ Joseph Campbell

Little Things Mean a Lot

Emerging research reveals that you don’t need to wait for the Big Day. Even small delights also contribute to a sense of meaning and well-being. Think joy with a little j.

When we take time to detect and absorb life’s beauty, we are engaging in what researchers Joshua Hicks, Ph.D., and Frank Martela, Ph.D. refer to as experiential appreciation. Doing so enhances the feeling that our lives have meaning—when we remember to do so.

Instead of taking good things for granted, Washington Post columnist Richard Sima advocates enjoying little moments as “joy snacks.” He notes they pop up everywhere: The aroma of your morning coffee. The quiet beauty of a fresh snowfall. An enjoyable conversation or book. The opportunities for savoring are endless.

Unfortunately, our goal-oriented society makes it hard to embrace these insights. However, you can develop your potential for experiential appreciation—and thus your joy.

You may need to start by engaging a growth mindset—the belief that intentional practice can create important changes. Next, start practicing the five tips below, curated from extensive research, practice, and wisdom traditions.

“We should slow down, let life surprise us, and embrace the significance in the everyday.” ~ Joshua Hicks & Frank Martela

Five Ways to Grow Your Joy

1. Journal your experiences of gratitude.

As suggested by the above studies, consider carving out time to write about current experiences that you appreciate. This has the potential to induce an upward spiral of gratitude and joy that contributes to well-being.

2. Tune in to nature.

Watch inspiring nature videos to enhance experiential appreciation, as did subjects in Hicks and Martela’s research. They, along with other investigators, also recommend direct interaction with nature as a way of boosting positive emotions.

3. Make good experiences stickier.

You can become more intentional about “taking in the good” using steps outlined by neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D.:

  • Notice a good fact and turn it into a positive experience. Look at good things, e.g., an unexpected compliment, as opportunities.

  • Really enjoy the experience. Stick with it for at least 30 seconds without multitasking or becoming distracted. Let it fill your awareness.

  • Consciously take in the goodness of the experience. Sense a warm glow spreading inside your chest or perhaps imagine a jewel going into your heart’s treasure chest. Know that you are gradually rewiring your brain’s negativity default.

4. Avoid a gourmet attitude.

Gourmets, by insisting on rarified experiences, constantly miss out on ordinary delights, observes William Irvine, a philosophy professor popularizing ancient Stoic wisdom. Notice where your fastidiousness or judgmental attitude gets in the way of appreciating your experience.

5. Take the “daily joy challenge.”

In The Book of Delights, acclaimed poet Ross Gay recounts his personal challenge to find daily reasons to rejoice for an entire year. He rhapsodizes over the odd beauty of a praying mantis, the onomatopoeia of the word jenky, and other small marvels. What quirky, awesome, delightful things might you notice?

One of positive psychology’s founders, Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., summarized decades of the field’s research in three simple words: “Other people matter.”

When it comes to living the good life—including an abundance of joy, other people provide ample opportunities. As you implement the above strategies, don’t overlook your social connections. Who deserves your gratitude? Who is creating a positive experience for you? Where can you drop your judgmental attitude about someone else? With whom might you rejoice in the wonder of each day?

P. S. If you want to move on to an advanced lesson, try sympathetic joy, a practice within the Buddhist lovingkindness tradition. You’ve probably heard of its more common opposite—schadenfreude, i.e., deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. Sympathetic joy, however, encourages you to delight in the good fortune of others—thereby multiplying your own happiness and deepening connections with others.

“The mere sense of living is joy enough.” ~ Emily Dickinson

Create Your Joy Algorithm

The consensus is in: Nurturing an appreciative attitude towards everyday delights benefits us in myriad ways. We flourish when we pause to fully experience moments of joy and beauty.

It’s a healthy alternative to cruising on automatic pilot, or worse, miring yourself in constant struggle. Everyday joy beats waiting for total bliss.

Each day life invites you to wake up to the good things all around you, from tiny delights to major thrills. Immerse yourself in moments that make you smile—even if they don’t take your breath away. Joy, in the end, is a personal choice.

Need more encouragement? Keep in mind that what you focus on grows. Your chosen focus creates your personal mental algorithms--just as your attention and “likes” build algorithms on your Facebook or Instagram accounts. Embrace your power to increase the positive moments that show up in your daily life feed.

Now is an ideal time to commit to cultivating your capacity for more delight. Start experimenting with these strategies and begin basking in a new year of joy and well-being!

“If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment.” ~ Carlos Santana



Why Joy Is a State of Mind by Angelique Kidjo and Femi Oki (TED Talks Daily)

Toward a More Delight-full Life by William Irvine, Waking Up App (free trial available)

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