Last week I wrote about how, for new year, I want to think about setting goals for how I want to feel over what I want to achieve.
One of the emotions that just missed the cut for my top 5 was joy. However, finding moments of joy has become a really important part of my life so this week it gets it’s own post!
It was only after listening to a recent Ted Talk about joy, that I realised that over the past 2 years I have developed a habit for finding joy and that it has enriched my life and wellbeing immensely. So I thought I would take some time share why this is important and how I go about it.
First up, I have to thank Ingrid Fetell Lee. Many of the tips in this post are hers! She has helped me understand what I knew about joy on some subconscious level by putting it into coherent words!!
Ingrid has spent years researching what joy is, what it looks like and where you can find it. You fan find out more about her work and watch her joyful Ted Talk at aestheticsofjoy.com.
So what is joy?
We all know what it feels like to be joyful. That desire to jump up and down clapping our hands of doing a happy dance or simply wanting to bust with it. But what is it?
It has been described as:
An intense momentary feeling of positive emotion
The defining feature seems to be that it centres around feeling good in the moment. This is different to happiness which is more of a lasting emotion we measure over time.
At first glance, we may think that the joy which innately comes with seeing a rainbow in a puddle is just a simple idle pleasures. But it is so much more meaningful than that.
I actually stopped and took a picture of my favourite puddle the other day because of how much I loved the reflection of a tree in it… It was such a grey day but I always cycle past this puddle and it seems like a doorway to another land.
Being joyful can be associated with being silly or childish or unprofessional. But why on earth should it? Who says we have to live in a beige sensible world? Not me!
Children’s unbridled joy is one of the purest things you can witness, so why should we give this up as the years pass? Why should the grown ups have to miss out?
Fuck that shit (grown ups get to swear as well!)
What magic it is that such simple tangible events or objects can bring us such intangible positive emotions. Emotions strong enough for you to momentarily forget all your worries, or to put all the stresses of a long day behind you.
There is science at play too. Without going to neuroscience on you. That feeling of joy kicks out happy neurotransmitters in our brain which help reduce cortisol and adrenaline levels (the nasties that cause stress). Feeling joy basically allows your body to heal and keeps you healthy.
Just imagine if you could bottle that.
Well maybe you can…
What Brings Us Joy?
Ingrid found that across ages and genders and societies, there are certain shared harbingers of joy. Humans find joy in bright colours, round shapes symmetry and multiplicity. Think of confetti. hundreds of colourful round bits of paper. Why should they be joyful? But they are!
Other common joy enablers are rainbows, balloons (apart from those with balloon phobia obv!), tree houses, fireworks, ice cream…
Angular sharp objects tend to indicate danger to our monkey brains whereas soft curves make us feel safe and secure. (Probably something to do with the womb!)
Though we develop joyful habits as adult, the universal objects of joy all tend to have an element of childhood nostalgia, but also they tend to follow the round, soft, safe trend. These elements translate into energy, abundance, freedom and play.
Think about all of the things that bring you joy. Do they match these?
For me, it’s about going small and big.
I find joy in so many small and simple things. They remind me of all the tiny wonders happening all around.
A bird on top of a lamp post, an overheard conversation between a parent and child, street art, the cows that live outside my house, cycling by the river with the sun on my face, the shape my yarn ends make, throwing a ball for a dog, that noise a can of coke makes when you open it, seeing a feather caught under my windscreen wiper, the opening bars to a favourite song, finding a tenner in a jeans pocket, remembering I have biscuits in the cupboard, hidden messages, flowers, autumn leaves… I could go on but I don’t want to turn this into a poem.
Julie Andrews sung it best in “These are a few of my favourite things”.
I can’t believe if forgot whiskers on kittens…
Here’s a dog in sunglasses instead
The big things make me feel joyful in a different way. Being reminded of my ultimate insignificance, that nothing really matters has a strange way of removing worry. Knowing that there is so much more out there than my life and daily concerns is somehow incredibly liberating.
Seeing the enormity of a starry night or a full moon, losing myself in the music at a gig, dancing like a loon surrounded by other people doing the same, looking up at the grandeur of big old buildings which were built long before I was born and will stand long after I die, being out in nature and remembering how small and irrelevant I am, that I am worth the same as that snail working its way across a log.
Small and Large. Joy is everywhere.
Where can we find it
Once you become aware of what makes you joyful, you start to see it everywhere. Like when you want to get your haircut, you start looking at everyone else hair.
Finding joy is the same – it has such a wonderful positive feedback loop that the more you see, the more you see!
You just need to start noticing what is right there, hidden in plain sight
I challenge you to become a joy hunter for a week and see if that habit doesn’t just stick!
If you are in a place where you struggle to see the joy in life, go and write a list of 10 things which bring you joy. If you can’t think of 10, try 5. Just begin.
Look for the small details, the little things that no one else sees. It’s like finding out a secret
Without wanting to sound cheesy AF, there really is magic in the every day!
Another way to find joy is to be frivolous. I’ve already written about why we need to play more, but if you stop being goal oriented and just do something for the hell of it, because you enjoy the process you will appreciate the joy that comes with it.
Like finger painting. No one is going to create a million dollar art work with finger painting (Ok, I bet someone has somewhere), but good god it’s fun just to get covered in paint and draw a stick person.
So put your phone away, get rid of petty distractions, stop trying to succeed at something and just get stuck in
In a world which seems seems so divided, we could all do with remembering how alike we are. That on a basic level, we are all the same. The universality of joy is a way we can do that.
The more you look for joy, the more you will take the opportunities to put yourself into it’s path. Joy is contagious so the more people you can bring with you, the better.
So I urge you, go forth and hunt. Look up, look left, look right, look down, look within and without.
Joy is right there waiting