How to Choose Joy and Why You Should

Summary: Did you know that there's one thing you can do that will improve your health, reduce stress, and power through difficult times? That one thing? Choose joy. “Joy is the oxygen for doing hard things in the world," says philanthropist Gary Haugen. Read on to learn how to experience more joy each day.

How to Choose Joy and Why You Should

Do you remember that time when you were so excited about something that you could hardly contain yourself? Root around in your memory. When was it? Last week? Last year? When you were a kid? 

Take a minute to locate a memory like this.

No, really. I forbid you to read further (in the nicest possible way, of course) until you locate such a memory.

{memory digging, memory digging, memory digging}

Did you find one? Super-duper. 

Finding joy

Woman jumps for joy at the beach

Let’s take a closer look. What were you doing or about to do? Where were you? Was anyone with you or were you on a lone adventure? What sights, sounds and smells to you remember? What about this incident made it special and exciting? Be specific.

Once you have this memory clearly in your mind, savor it for 60 seconds. Go back in time and remember everything about it like you’re experiencing it all over again.

No, seriously. Stop reading. Savor the memory. This is really important

{memory savoring, memory savoring, memory savoring}

Welcome back.

That memory, my friends, is what living with joy feels like. 

The longer it took you to recall a memory like this, the more urgently you need a joy holiday. Many of us are facing a real crisis. We need an infusion of joy STAT, like others need trauma surgery or a life-saving blood transfusion. 

Why joy matters, and how it helps

When I say “joy”, I’m referring to an emotion that has buoyancy. It’s not merely pleasant; it energizes you and makes you feel a bit giddy. It noticeably lifts your spirits. 

Woman holds a big smiley face in front of her

I encourage you to choose joy on a regular basis. Joy can reduce stress and help you feel less overwhelmed by life. Life is hard, but experiencing joy brings a sense of freedom and light, momentarily allowing us to float free from the sense of structure and obligation that guide practically every minute of our adult lives. Joy is an anti-gravity fix for world-weary souls.

Seeking joy is just as important as finding it. For starters, focusing on the idea of joy contributes to our overall happiness, and the pursuit of both yield plenty of benefits.  Studies done by the Harvard Medical School back this up. “Want to feel better and improve your health? Start by focusing on the things that bring you happiness. Scientific evidence suggests that positive emotions can help make life longer and healthier.”

Focusing on joy also counterbalances our tendency to revel in negative thoughts and feelings. Thanks to our ancestors, we have a deeply rooted tendency to constantly scan our environment for threats. This means we go through life with a negatively bias, defined as a “tendency to give more weight to the negative. . . and focus more on negative experiences.”

Spending time being joyful can transform your life. Joy benefits your entire being, “especially your heart and your mind. In fact, research shows that joyful people have less chance of having a heart attack, healthier blood pressure, lower cholesterol, weight management, and decreased stress levels.” Joy also motivates and inspires us. 

Why you have to choose joy

We can’t force ourselves to feel joy, of course. Emotions are a complex and tricky business and difficult to summon on command. But we can pay attention to what has given us joy in the past and commit to seeking it out on a regular basis while also exploring new ways to experience joy.

Carnival goers choose joy by riding the swing ride

Like storm chasers who deliberately put themselves in the path of the storm, I urge you to show up on a regular basis where you’ve found joy in the past or where you suspect you might find it now. The theater. The theme-park. The bookstore. The ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese. If that doesn’t work, root around inside yourself and see what sparks interest. If you think something might bring you joy, schedule time to try it out. Fly a kite. Visit a garden. Go to a baseball game. Indulge your love of space travel. 

If we wish to feel fulfilled in life (and who doesn’t?), it is vitally important that we commit to choosing joy in the same way we commit to taking care of others or doing our jobs or managing our homes. Practicing joy is a skill, and we should practice it with the same earnestness and dedication with which we practice other important skills such as dependability, patience, and compassion. 

To choose joy – schedule it!

Family clinks glasses in "cheers"

To do this, we should schedule joy in the same way we schedule other things. I’m giving you permission to put it on your calendar and add it to your to do list. I also must insist that you keep this appointment with yourself.

So many of us accidentally operate from a scarcity mindset – the feeling that there is barely enough energy, patience, or kindness to sustain us. Joy is an important counterbalance to this way of thinking and living.

Even when challenging life experiences make joy harder to experience, keep pursing it. Assume that it will turn up, like misplaced keys. Just because you’ve lost sight of it temporarily doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. You’ll find it again, but only if you look for it. 

Sorry, I’ve gotta go. The Kite Festival is about to begin. And that ice cream cone isn’t going to eat itself. 

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