What's the difference between joy and happiness? Happiness is an outward expression, while joy is in an inner feeling. It's easy to express happiness by putting on a smile or laughing at just the right time, but inwardly, we don't feel joy at all. Joy comes a state of inner knowing and being. Even when life's circumstances deal us a really hard hand, it's possible to still have joy. This doesn't mean that we're constantly living from a state of "everything is perfect in my life even when it's not" (i.e. toxic positivity). People who are joyful still have days that are sad, hard, filled with grief, or anger.
But joy can be something we choose to see, participate in, and become in our lives, and it has a lot of mental health benefits! Let's take a look at five ways you can create joy in your life.
#1 - Practice Gratitude
We all have something to be grateful for in our lives, even if we have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find it. Could the thing you're grateful for be the roof over your head? The delicious meal you ate last night? The cozy sweater you're wearing right now? Could it also be the sun that's shining through your window, or the warm cup of coffee you're sipping on while reading this? What about the good book you're reading? Or your children's laughter filling the room? Your partner's ability to make you feel loved and safe?
There are so many things in our lives we can be grateful for. Learning to practice daily gratitude helps us find the joys in our lives, even if it's small.
Have you ever had a day so bad that the only thing you could think of to be grateful for was something that seemed small, like the candy bar you ate or that your feet are warm? Me too. And that's okay! It's the practice of choosing to search for joy-filled moments in our lives, even if they're small, to be thankful for that makes all the difference in creating a life of joy.
#2 - Be Present
In a world that's constantly encouraging us to look for the next best thing, it can be hard to remain fully present where our feet are. We pick up our phones to check text messages during conversations with people right in front of us, or we find ourselves day dreaming of living in another place rather than where we are right now.
There's a lot of beauty to be found in choosing to be present with the people and places around us. By doing this, we start to notice things we missed out on before, like the bluejay that visits our back deck every morning, or how steam rises from our coffee in a beautiful swirl after we pour it into our mug. We start to notice the facial expressions of others and how it helps us respond, or when we have our phone away, we realize we didn't really need to connect to the virtual world as much as we thought we did.
Being present right where we are is one of the most profound gifts we can give ourselves and the people around us.
#3: Move Your Body
There are a ton of mental health benefits to moving our bodies, but did you also know it can create joy? When we're physically moving, our brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins, are released and produced at a higher rate. We feel better, we're healthier, and any mental health issues we might be dealing with can start to be alleviated through body movement. It's such an important role in our mental health that I actually recommend physical activity as a part of all of my clients treatment plans!
Moving our bodies is a way of creating joy because we get to decide what we enjoy doing. Whether that's running, yoga, weightlifting, cycling, playing a sport, pilates, dancing, or walking, there's a form of exercise out there that's sure to fit whatever you enjoy doing! Exercise isn't meant to be something you dread, which is one of the main reasons why people don't do it or they stop doing it. Once you find what you like, I can assure you your body will continue to crave it!
#4: Forgive Yourself of the Past
One of the beautiful things (out of many) about living is that we're constantly evolving from who we once were. We've all made mistakes or bad decisions, and maybe some of us have experienced the consequences of those mistakes or decisions throughout our lives. It can be difficult to forgive ourselves for who we used to be or what we've done, but in order to be present where we are and truly find joy, learning to forgive ourselves is an important component to that.
Therapy can be a great way for you to start on a journey of self-forgiveness. Therapists can provide an unbiased perspective to help you see yourself for who you are today, not who you were 5, 10, even 15 years ago. It can also be a safe space for you to be held accountable for the decisions and choices you make now.
Whatever you have, try giving that to someone to share in it with you. This doesn't have to be money. It could be a funny story that made you laugh, a cup of coffee so delicious you can't not tell someone about it, or a book you've read that changed you. You could even give your time, like visiting with an old friend you haven't seen in awhile or helping a woman unload her groceries into her car.
When we give what we have, we're sharing what brought us joy with someone else. And maybe, just maybe, it could bring them joy, too.
Being joyful or choosing joy doesn't diminish tragedy, grief, sadness, anger, or any other emotion or experience that's the opposite of joy. Rather, it's a state of inner being that gives us the opportunity to search for moments, no matter how small, that have changed our inner being in a positive way, even for a brief moment.
At Root Counseling, we view therapy as an opportunity for people to connect to themselves to find what brings them joy, as well as create spaces for times where joy can't be found. If you're interested in setting up an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.