I get tired of teaching people how to feel less bad. Because what you focus on you get more of. So if we spend too much time telling people how to overcome anxiety or depression, we basically tell our brains that anxiety and depression are really important and to pay more attention to those experiences. So for these three posts we’re working together on how to feel more joy.
Now, I don’t know about you, but the pandemic has seemed to make it harder to feel joy. We spend less time doing things with the people we love. We’ve stayed home. A lot of people have felt depressed or anxious or lonely or tired or bored. So let’s get our joy back. Let’s stop waiting for something to change before we can feel happy again.
How Does Joy Differ From Happiness?
Here’s my list of 14 things that I start working on when I want to increase my joy and happiness. And I’m not talking about just coping skills or stuff that feels good in the short term. In my opinion, these are skills that foster a lasting sense of happiness because they line up with the kind of person that I want to be.
Forrest Talley, a clinical psychologist, said, “Lots of people confuse joy with happiness, and although they are closely related and they often occur simultaneously, these feel-good emotions aren’t synonymous.
“Happiness is an emotion that brings bursts of intense pleasure, excitement, and satisfaction, while joyfulness is a stronger, longer-term state that results in feelings of inner peace and contentment . . . Whereas happiness can be easily manufactured, joy comes through setting up the right conditions for it to suddenly appear.”
How Can I Motivate Myself?
Lastly, before we go into the list of these ideas, you all probably know this stuff. You know the stuff that brings lasting joy. The real problem is getting yourself to do it.
It can be really hard to get motivated, to get yourself out the door. And this is how the depression cycle works. You feel bad, and then you don’t feel like doing anything, and then you don’t do anything, which makes you less motivated, which makes you feel even worse, and on the cycle goes.
Depression literally makes you both sad and unmotivated to do the tiny things that will actually make yourself happier. So first, let’s talk about some ways to break that cycle.
1. Take Tiny Steps
Just take tiny, tiny steps. One percent changes are a lot more powerful than trying to do these massive huge changes.
Dr. Glenn Doyle says, “If you can’t clean a whole room, clean a corner of it. If you can’t do the dishes, do a dish. If you can’t get in the shower, wash your face. Always look for the things you can do with the energy and the focus you do have. Little wins pave the way for bigger wins. One percent is always going to beat zero percent.”
2. Change Your Environment
Next: if you’re having a hard time getting motivated, change your environment to make it easier to do the things you want to do and harder to do the things that make you miserable.
So for example, move your phone away from your bed. Keep your exercise equipment out. Don’t keep ice cream in the freezer at home; make yourself go out and buy some when you want it. Do anything that makes your new habit easier and your bad habits harder.
3. Be Accountable
Get an accountability buddy or a support network. Tell someone what you’re working on. Check in with them about it.
So with my kids, we set the goal to say positive things about our day each night at dinner, and we made a little chart to track it. And if we do it 80% of the time for a month, then they get to go to their favorite place, the buffet restaurant where they can get jello.
Now, do you think they let me forget about our little goal? No way.
So make someone keep you accountable if possible. That can be really helpful.
4. Track It
Next: track it. I am disproportionately motivated by a very simple tracker where I have to put check marks on these very tiny habits. I’m not talking about going and running 10 miles every day. Choose a super tiny habit that you want to track, and put your tracker somewhere where you have to see it every day. And add a reminder in your phone to go check that box off.
5. Schedule It
Another way to help get yourself to do things that you maybe don’t feel like doing is put an event on your calendar.
Schedule in some time with your child or your friend or your husband, put it on your calendar, and tell them that you’re not allowed to cancel. If you don’t show up, they have to come to your house or something like that. Don’t give yourself an out.
6. Double-Reward Yourself
Double-reward yourself for any accomplishment. So if you’re depressed and you do something good — let’s say you clean the bathroom — the depressed mind is gonna say, “Well, you cleaned the bathroom, but you took forever, you lazy bum. And the rest of the house is still a mess, so it’s not worth much. You’ll never be good enough.”
You can tell that little brain of yours, “Thanks for the thought, brain,” and instead say something like, “Good job! The bathroom looks great! I’m proud of you for doing the thing you could do today.”
When we punish ourselves for doing some small thing, we tell our brain to be less motivated the next time. When we acknowledge our accomplishment, when we praise our accomplishment, when we give ourselves credit or a little pat on the back, it tells our brain to pump out more dopamine, which is the reward and motivation chemical, so it makes us more motivated the next time.
How Can I Be Happier?
So now that we’ve talked about how to actually make yourself do these things, let’s talk about what these things are.
1. Get Outside
Number one: get outside. Get some freaking sunlight. This is especially relevant in January where I live. It’s so depressing. But I found that taking a short walk often makes me feel a lot better.
And a lot of people, when I polled them about what works for them, mentioned exercise, and especially outside exercise, as being powerful for them, and I know it is for me.
Yoga was also a common theme, and so were pets.
2. Find Something Beautiful
Number two: look for something beautiful to take a picture of each day. You can even find a friend who wants to send you a picture each day, and you send them one.
3. Practice Gratitude
Number three: gratitude practice. I’ve got more on this in other videos, but all you need to do is just write down what you’re grateful for each night, and that rewires your brain to be happier.
4. Find Uplifting Stuff Online
Number four: stop reading the news and start following things like The Good News Channel and Upworthy and The Good News Network and just share uplifting stories with family and friends.
And I also am a big believer in curating your social media feed. Block, delete, or say “not interested in” to all the gloomy stuff, and save, share, like, and comment on all the good stuff. And that teaches your brain and the algorithm to keep sending you more goodness.
5. Read Books
Or, even better, a lot of people recommended reading books. Reading books is a powerful way to transport you to another world, to feel emotions that you maybe aren’t able to feel on your own right now. If you want to laugh, for a light read may I recommend Garrison Keeler or Patrick McManus? They’re both kind of ridiculous authors who make me feel a little bit happier.
6. Turn Off Your Screens
Next, turn off your screens. You may be surprised how when you’re bored, when your brain isn’t just being constantly distracted by screens, you’ll actually think of something fun to do that actually brings lasting joy and not just temporary distractions.
I also think you should turn off your notifications on your phone. Because what you pay attention to you get more of.
So don’t let your phone decide what you’re going to do with your attention, with your focus. You choose it. How do you want to spend your time? When we’re more intentional about our time usage, our life lines up more with the kind of life we want to live, and then we feel happier.
7. Write Down Happy Things
Next, write down all the good things you did that day and the good things that happened to you, and look at pictures of the good times. Write about and remember the good things in your life.
Basically what this does is it sends a message to your brain that the good stuff is important, and it tells your brain to put more neural pathways, more wiring around the good things in your life and the happy feelings in your life.
So the more you pay attention to, the more you double-reinforce that by writing it down or telling someone, the more your brain realizes this is important; let’s make more of that.
8. Serve Someone
Next: serve someone. Bring joy to someone else. If you look for it, you can always find someone to do something nice for. And this can be as simple as complimenting a coworker, expressing sincere gratitude to service staff, writing a note to someone, making treats for a neighbor, picking up some trash. I’ve got a huge list of these in my journal download.
For me, doing service for others is one of the best feelings in the world. And every time I recall that service, I can feel that joy again.
9. Live Your Values
Next: if you want to feel joy, you’ve got to explore your values. What do you really want your life to be about? What kind of person do you want to be? And then you’ve got to choose one way that you’re going to act on those values.
So if you value creating art and beauty, make a goal to sketch every day. If you want to get in shape, start walking a little bit every day. I really think lasting joy comes from being the person that you value.
10. Do Something You Enjoy
Then this one’s pretty obvious: do anything you enjoy — music, reading, cooking. Make yourself a checklist for the day that includes joy on it, and try and check it off every day.
11. Connect With Others
Connect with others. Schedule a date with your partner. Put your friend time on the calendar. We need people to be happy, so make it a priority by putting it into your schedule.
12. Laugh About Life
Find a way to laugh about life. Make jokes about the bad things that happen, and find a way to tell it in a funny story. Mike Birbiglia is a great example. I’ll link in the description to his stand-up routine where he finds out that his girlfriend has a boyfriend and he spends the day hanging out with both of them, and he somehow turns this into a funny thing.
Just this morning I took my kids to the playplace, and it was a complete disaster. And I was very cranky about this. But then I told my husband about it, and we were able to joke about it, and I felt a little bit better about poopy underwear and 30-minute tantrums and all sorts of other really just not fun things that come with parenting.
A lot of people when I polled them mentioned meditation as their way of finding more joy. Man, I’ll be honest, meditation is super difficult for me. But it works for a lot of people, so it’s worth exploring.
14. Make Something
Next: try making something. Draw, paint, or crochet. I love that feeling of building things, making things, doing something with your hands. So whether it’s woodworking or writing a new video and producing it, there’s just this enormous sense of satisfaction of making something.
And I think our brains are hardwired to be creative and productive. So even if this is mowing the lawn, go give yourself some credit for making that lawn look beautiful. There’s just something about doing a physical task, not just sitting at a computer or looking at a phone screen, that can bring a lot of joy to your life.
Will You Join Me?
So let’s make a plan together. Let’s make a joy habit. Get a calendar or a 30-day tracker like I have in my journaling course or a notebook, and write down one thing every day that brings you joy. What you focus on you get more of. And by the end of the month, let me know: did it make your life more joyful?
Comment below: what are you gonna do to grow your joy muscles?
Thank you for reading, and take care.