Finding Joy, One Step at a Time

A few days ago, I went to a Joymakers Workshop with Ingrid Fetell Lee (see her TED Talk here) and I am currently reading her book, Joyful. Naturally, joy is a big part of my Positivity Experiment. So I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned and my thoughts on the topic with you.

Who and what gives you joy?

First off, let’s play a little, shall we? No worries, it won’t take longer than five minutes. (Actually, you may want to set a timer.) Ready? Just take a piece of paper, divide it into four areas—people, places, things, and activities that bring you joy—and write down whatever comes to mind for each category.

Done with your list? Then ask yourself: What did you find hard? Which column filled easily? And did anything surprise you? I hope it does because that’s where it becomes interesting! Personally, I found a few things about this simple exercise quite surprising.

People who bring joy

For instance, my list of people was shorter than I would have expected, considering how many fabulous people I know. Some of them were there, of course, plus a few friends and family whom I rarely meet these days. But apparently, their names immediately came up when I wracked my brain for joyful people. In turn, my list was missing some names which I thought should be there. But this is not a wedding, so ‘should-be-there’ people aren’t included. If you experienced something similar, don’t worry! Being close to a number of people you don’t consider particularly joyful is normal. They may fulfill other important roles in your life. However, you want to be mindful of it if you spend most of your time with people you don’t consider a joy.

Action: How about reaching out to one person on your list of joyful people you haven’t talked to in a while? Do it today! If they bring you joy, you want more of them in your life. And they’ll love to hear from you too I bet.

Places that bring joy

Another surprise for me was how quickly and easily my list of places filled up. Turns out my joyful places are quite literally all over the map, ranging from my favorite Seattle park and my favorite Frankfurt street all the way to New York City, Istanbul, a small Italian village, and the Kilimanjaro. I may have to rethink my self-image of being not much of a traveler. Don’t get me wrong, I like traveling, but often enough, travel comes with so much anxiety for me that I don’t actively pursue travel goals. Which in turn means that I mostly go along with wherever my husband or friends want to go instead of actively deciding where to go. Now with my list, I may change that attitude to make sure I get to see a lot of joyful places.

Action: Can you travel to at least one of the places on your list this year? If that seems unlikely, make visualizing your perfect trip part of your meditation practice, especially in the morning when you want to set a great mood for the day. And if you have a happy place nearby, visit it more often!

Things that bring joy

I had no problem listing a whole bunch of things in a good minute—which wasn’t a great surprise. And lots of people at the workshop nodded off a lot of the same things, like flowers, books, candles, pools, or fireplaces. What’s kind of surprising is how easily you can find joy all around you too: a kid with balloons, a beautiful flower display, a neighbor’s cute puppy, your favorite coffee mug (if you want to see mine—dog and coffee mug—check out my Instagram). All these things can make us smile. Something new I learned at the workshop: Research shows that bright colors alone can do the trick. That explains why, despite all minimalism and I-want-a-lot-of-white-around-me, I love my glossy red sideboard so much!

Action: When we don’t open our eyes, we may miss all the small moments of joy our surroundings have to offer. Today, make it a point to really look at things and people to find joy in your everyday life.

Activities that bring joy.

Last but not least, activities. I have to say, after the first couple—my standards of reading, writing, and being with friends—I struggled a bit to come up with more. But then I added one of my all-time favorite activities—ice-skating, which I don’t do nearly as often as I would like to—and realized that there are tons of ‘active activities’ I enjoy a lot. Walking, running, hiking all belong on this list. And that made me think of creating joy versus consuming it. No worries, I am not telling you not to have a glass of wine, eat chocolate and watch your favorite show if that brings you joy. But it can’t hurt to be mindful of how much joy we actively create in our lives versus joy we consume.

Action: Did you write down an activity you haven’t done in a while? Make time this week to do it! No postponing, okay? Just one. I’ll go hiking or ice-skating, depending on the weather. Comment with the activity you have chosen to make this week more joyful!