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Finding Joy

By Janet Benavente, Colorado State University Extension Agent

For centuries, joy has been an aspiration of humanity. One of the most often adapted melodies of classical music is Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Joy is defined in many different ways. Dr. Ned Hallowell, in his book The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, says that joy is “…a moment that makes people say’ Wow!, I’m so lucky to be alive’.” Martin Seligman, another researcher who is examining joy in the modern human context, uses the term gratifications instead of joy. He defines gratification as “a momentary burst of bliss or an activity that absorbs and engages us fully”.

Researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky has found that much of the happiness that precedes moments of joy or gratification is the product of intentional action taken by individuals. Reframing or casting events in a positive light is one way of prompting moments of joy. Buddha is credited with this thought; “ All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.” A spiritual leader of 20th century America espoused the power of positive thinking and the term has become embedded in the English language.

In addition to reframing there are several other strategies that can contribute to increased happiness and its by-product, joyful moments.

  • Acknowledge thankfulness.

  • Savor experiences and share them with others.

  • Accept praise gracefully and gratefully.

  • Lose yourself in things you enjoy.

  • Smile often.

  • Spend time with people you enjoy.

  • Meter out moments of pleasure.

  • Refuel your spirit.

  • Practice random acts of kindness.

  • Play.

  • Exercise.

  • Pursue goals.

Acknowledging the things for which you are thankful by journaling or scrap booking has been shown to increase happiness. This works best if done year around not just on special occasions. Furthermore, re-counting happy and joyous experiences allows us to relive them over and over. Other people can also experience the joy as they listen or view our account of the experience. Learning to accept praise gracefully and gratefully gives joy to you and to the person offering the praise. Let yourself feel worthy of the praise and know how to keep it “from going to your head”.

Recognizing your “passions” (things that give you the most pleasure) and losing yourself in these activities creates the perfect environment for joy. For many people, sharing the passion with another person heightens the joy even more. This could be taking hikes at daybreak, restoring classic cars, attending an opera performance, or reading a book. However, it is important to space out these activities because without some variety the enjoyment may fade.

Smiling often sends a joy filled message to others. In addition, the use of the facial muscles needed to form a smile releases stress reducing hormones. Spend time with people you enjoy. Joy and happiness are contagious. Being around people who lift your spirits and make you happy increases the possibility for moments of joy. Practicing random acts of kindness for friends and for strangers is yet another way to set the stage for joy and happiness.

Each person has a different strategy for refueling the spirit. For some it is a massage, for others a day of solitude. Some may find a challenging game of golf or tennis the way to feel renewed. For others, refueling may a be trip to the mountains or a day of fishing. Maybe a day at the amusement park with grandchildren is the refueling break. Any change of scenery can provide this important opportunity to find happiness and possibly even joy.

Even people who are not drawn to sports need to include some kind of physical activity for maximum happiness. It should be something they look forward to and do not find painful or too difficult. Maybe going back to a favorite activity of childhood will put the “play” in exercise so that it becomes a catalyst for happiness and not a burden. Physical activity relieves stress, increases oxygen to the brain, and provides a change of routine.

Goals give us a reason for getting up each day. They may be small or large. They may be personal or team goals. Putting a dream or wish on paper and saying it out loud to others makes it a goal. A person can then begin developing a step-by-step plan for achieving the goal. Research shows that even if goals are not fully achieved, working toward a goal increases happiness.

Research shows that actively working to increase one’s degree of happiness has several positive benefits.

    • Stronger relationships

    • Longer lives

    • Stronger immune systems

In other words, seeing the glass half full instead of half empty leads to longer, healthier lives filled with meaningful relationships.

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