Choose Joy: How to Learn to be Joyful

We all know people who appear to have EVERYTHING.

They have money, a good job, a healthy family, and they are completely negative and miserable to be around.

We also know people who have been given more burden than one person should have to carry.

Maybe they have lost loved ones, they never seem to be in a good place with money, their job sucks, but yet, THEY ARE STILL JOYFUL most of the time.

Why is this??

The answer may seem complex and involve childhood experiences and brain chemistry, and sure it does, but even with all of that taken into consideration, being joyful IS a choice and a SKILL.

So, when given the choice, choose joy.

No, this isn’t always easy, but in this article, I will investigate what this looks like and give clear action steps to improve your ability to choose joy and live a more full and purposeful life.

woman who is happy because she decided to choose joy

Is joy the same as being happy?…

At face value, joy and happiness seem like two sides of the same coin.

There is a subtle difference, however.

Happiness is an emotion.

It is more fleeting than joy and it can well up inside of you for reasons ranging from your loved one is well enough to leave the hospital to holding a warm cup of your favorite latte flavor.

Joy, on the other hand, is more of a state of being.

It is less flighty and more stable than happiness.

Joy comes from mental and emotional balance a person has either been blessed with naturally or has worked at.

So when looking at the differences between happiness and joy, it can be a cause and effect relationship.

Joy is the cause, happiness is the effect.

One can have fleeting happiness without joy, sure, but it is much harder to find someone who is joyous who isn’t happy.

Woman smiling and throwing snow because she decided to choose joy

What are the benefits of choosing joy?…

Having more joy in your life will bring about more happiness.

Well, obviously!

But, is there more to it than that?

Can choosing joy do more for us that just put a smile on our face?

An article from the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado dives into this question and lands on some substantial research that suggests it does MUCH more.

A few of the benefits cited in this article are:

  • healthier cardiovascular system-in one study the effect of joy on the arteries was equivalent to that of a statin drug
  • a longer life
  • a positive view of one’s life including a decrease in loneliness
  • boosting the immune system by producing more T-cells
  • decrease in the amount of stress hormones produced
  • decrease in pain sensation

Joy really does make our life and our health better, mentally, emotionally, and physiologically!

But, if being joyful is so wonderful, why don’t we all choose joy ALL of the time??

Woman laughing because she decided to choose joy

What keeps us from the joy?…

This is clearly a very personal question and one for which there is no easy or cookie-cutter answer.

Everything from our natural disposition, chemical imbalances, what was modeled for us as children, who we spend our lives with now, trauma we have experienced, how much personal development work we have done, and myriad other factors contribute to how well we do or don’t, accept joy into our lives.

The article “The Science Behind the Joy of Sharing Joy” from Psychology Today shares research that suggests that our joyful experiences each day outnumber our negative ones 3-fold, and when boiled down to the heart of it, there are two things that keep us from FEELING and EMBRACING the joy.

The first is what they refer to as “the negativity bias.”

This is when our brain is predisposed to remembering and dwelling on the negative rather than positive events.

The second factor is called “habituation.”

Yes, our mind gets little hits from good and joyful things, but just like with any drug of choice, over time the highs aren’t quite as high as the first time and so we keep chasing more.

Well…that was far from uplifting.

I know I am ready for the good news, now…

So how does someone who wasn’t gifted a natural inclination toward it choose joy?

How to learn to choose joy…

Woman with glistter on her face, she decided to choose joy

Yes, being joyful can be learned.

Whew!

But, how do we get more of the good stuff???

The same article from Psychology Today that bummed me out a minute ago also offers a beacon of hope that will bring us more joy, AND it’s easy!

Share your joy with the world!…

It highlighted a study from Brigham Young University that suggested simply talking about your joy with someone else brought on a sense of “heightened well-being, increased overall life satisfaction and even more energy.”

I will try it now: Hello, all. I am sitting outdoors on my deck under the shade from several huge and glorious plants we inherited from my husband’s loving grandparents. The sun is warming me up, but the perfect little breeze off of the nearby lake keeps me cool and smells like heaven. Life is GOOD.

Yep, felt pretty darn good.

I’ve no clue why sharing joy helps cultivate more joy, but I wonder if saying it forces us to remember to be grateful?

I know just the typing that paragraph above made me think about all of the little details that are coming together to make my morning glorious, things I wouldn’t have thought twice about if I hadn’t made myself share some joy.

Dig out some gratitude…

Woman soaking up the sun because she decided to choose joy

This does gel with more research uncovered in the Psychology Today article, which explains that “gratitude improves our ability to connect with others, boosts our altruistic tendencies, makes us optimistic and happier, decreases envy and materialism and even improves health for people with physical ailments.”

Spending a few moments in the morning thinking and writing about good things you have going on can shift your mind toward joy right out of the gate.

An article published in the Journal of Positive Psychology may shed some light on why.

The Watkins, Emmons, Greaves, and Bell research entitled “Joy is a distinct positive emotion: Assessment of joy and relationship to gratitude and well-being” explained that “we found that dispositional gratitude predicted increases in state joy over time. We also found that trait joy predicted increases in state gratitude, providing evidence for an intriguing upward spiral between joy and gratitude.”

“We found that dispositional gratitude predicted increases in state joy over time. We also found that trait joy predicted increases in state gratitude, providing evidence for an intriguing upward spiral between joy and gratitude.”

Watkins, Emmons, Greaves, and Bell

Gratitude brings greater joy and greater joy brings gratitude.

Nice.

So, how do we become more grateful and choose joy?

Journaling…

Woman journaling in attempts to choose joy

Gratitude journaling is something you see and hear about EVERYWHERE right now, but it is because it is simple to do and IT WORKS.

There are many ways to do this:

  1. Take out a fresh sheet of paper every morning, set a timer for 1 minute, and write out as many things you are grateful for as possible. With this approach you may run out of obvious things and have to list out some of life’s little pleasures, which is good!
  2. Keep it simple and write your top 3 every day. When I used this method I would find myself writing down the same 3 each time (like loving husband, healthy kids, a roof over my head, whatever). I found it useful to make a list of the obvious ones and keep it in my journal so I could glance at those and quickly acknowledge them, but then be freed up to put more thought into it and choose 3 different things I truly felt gratitude for at that moment. Otherwise, this can become routine by listing the obvious and after a while you stop putting real thought into it, making it less effective.
  3. Write down your big one for the day. This is similar to the method above, but just with the one that most speaks to your heart right now. I would suggest making the “obvious list” and keeping it in your journal, like I explained above, which will allow you to dive deeper and flex your gratitude muscles. Once you have written down your one for the day, spend a moment really thinking about it and remind yourself of it throughout your day.
  4. The next technique I call the “bait and switch” and I first explained this technique in this article about happiness. This may seem backward, but write down 5 things you are actually NOT happy about at the moment. What is ticking you off or making you stressed/upset/fearful? After you have gotten those on paper, next to each one write what you have to be grateful for about that person/situation. YES. You read it right. This approach can be incredibly challenging, but it forces you to change your perspective and that can be incredibly powerful. Read more about this technique here.
  5. One more great way to build more gratitude into your life is by adding a “because” column to your list. Depending on how much time you have, make a list of 3-10 things you are grateful for right now, but after you write one, next to it write WHY it brings you joy. Don’t stop at the reason you can think of, get creative. What are ALL of the ways that this thing/person/situation improves your life? GO DEEP.

Choose joy every morning by reminding yourself of all of the good in your life.

Meditation…

Woman using meditation to choose joy

I feel like there is a heading called “Meditation…” in every single article I write.

Probably because there is.

BUT, that is because it is so dang potent at straightening out our imbalances and changing us in a physiological way to shift our mindset toward joy.

Guided meditations aimed toward gratitude are an incredible way to make you feel grateful, and in turn, as we learned from the research cited above, greater joy.

I have found some online freebies that will do the job nicely:

6 minutes with Deepak Chopra…

If you have read anything else I have written, you probably know I think Deepak Chopra is fantastic. This little shortie of a meditation brought to use by Live Sonima is perfect to use to start your day right.

14 minutes of upbeat gratitude…

Have more than 6 minutes? Dan Lok has gifted us with this uplifting meditation to inspire you and infuse more gratitude into your mind and spirit.

Yoga…

Yoga seems like another one of those suggested practices that is a “cure all,”…but that may be because it is.

Or, at least, there is a huge and growing body of scientific research that points to an extensive list of physical, mental, and emotional benefits.

And, you guessed it, there is data that supports the notion that yoga can increase a person’s sense of gratitude.

Published research from Ivtzan and Papantoniou studied yogis and non-yogis in relation to how grateful they report feeling.

The study concluded: “it seems that the longer individuals practice yoga regularly, the higher their levels of reported gratitude are.”

There is compelling evidence pointing to the significance of gratitude as a contributing factor to personal growth and relational wellbeing as well as its indirect role in enabling individuals to cope and grow through diverse adverse situations.

Ivtzan and Papantoniou

Yoga’s where it’s at, people.

So what kind of yoga, specifically, will make you more grateful and aid in your efforts to choose joy?

The study didn’t specify, but I have found a few practices aimed at just that.

14 minutes in the morning…

BrettLarkin Yoga brings us this quick sequence that will start your day by being thankful.

30 minute gratitude yoga practice…

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Yogi Elise Fabricant offers a 30-minute gratitude and chest opening practice that will leave your body and mind in bliss.

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1 hour gratitude workout…

If you are ready for a practice and workout that will leave you feeling thankful (and maybe sweaty), Kylie Larson has the practice for you!

Click here to get 50% off any YogaDownload.com subscription and use this power yoga flow to bring gratitude while opening your chest and working your quads and hip flexors.

Self-Love

Positive Psychology offers a fantastic article on the benefits of loving yourself, which does include greater feelings of joy.

The research they uncovered concluded that “self-compassion is a vital component of the factors that protect us against depression and the negative outcomes it brings with it. Research has shown that those with low self-compassion are at risk for greater avoidance of their problems, more rumination over their negative thoughts and feelings…”

Woman swimming in a pool and using self-love to choose joy

“Self-compassion can act as a buffer between us and self-judgment, isolation, and over-identification—common issues in depression. Those with higher self-compassion are not only generally less troubled by these symptoms, but they are also better able to cope with them.”

Positive Psychology

I actually JUST got done writing an extensive ultimate guide to feeling more self-love with a tons of action steps and a super fun and FREE self-love meditation mad life to download.

In that I cover mantras to chakras and many things in between.

Learning to not just accept yourself, but to love and embrace who you are, the person you spend YOUR LIFE with is vital in your effort to choose joy.

Read more here.

Do for others…

Jar full of money that says "fundraiser"

We have all heard the addage “it is greater to give than to receive.”

There is data that backs up this notion so it is important, then, in our quest to choose joy.

It seems this phenomenon is ingrained in us nearly from birth.

Research from Aklin, Hamlin, and Dunn on toddlers and giving found that “the present study finds that before the age of two, toddlers exhibit greater happiness when giving treats to others than receiving treats themselves.”

I find it to be fascinating that we are born wired to find joy in giving.

Piriya Pholphirul studied Buddhists whose culture places high importance on charity and concluded that “giving leads to a higher happiness level than not giving at all. Moreover…charitable giving in terms of money and goods gives a donor more happiness than does volunteer work, but that both types of giving enhance one’s happiness.” 

What I find interesting and important is that this research found that the giving of money brought greater feelings of happiness than giving time, which surprised me, but which is also encouraging because whether one is time or money-strapped, both types of charity are helpful and lead to feelings of joy.

Actions steps here are obvious, give to something greater than yourself.

Give locally, give globally, volunteer at a school, animal shelter, planting trees, anything and everything that serves the greater good will be a step toward choosing joy.

Help others and help yourself at the same time-what could be more beautiful than that?

Do something new and adventurous…

Woman giving a man a "superman" ride, they decided to choose joy

In an ultimate guide I wrote on happiness here, I found a captivating article by Alex Licherman M.D. for Psychology Today where he says: “…nothing, I believe, contributes to our happiness more than shattering the delusions to which we cling…(especially beliefs about ourselves).”

His post goes into extensive detail about the many benefits of pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, but the one I focused on when thinking about building joy was thinking about the personal growth that happens when we try something new.

“Thrusting yourself into new situations and leaving yourself there alone, so to speak, often forces beneficial change. A spirit of constant self-challenge keeps you humble and open to new ideas that very well may be better than the ones you currently hold dear.”

Alex Licherman M.D.

If you are reading this post because we are struggling to find or choose joy, one very real possibility is that you have gotten stuck in a rut.

Think about the sheer joy we experienced as a young child when we learned how to ride a bike or do a dive.

Even as a teen, that first solo drive tasted of freedom and pride (even if it was a little scary!).

Once we have mastered the basics of life and fallen into the work, groceries, dinner, sleep, repeat cycle, learning new things may seem more like a chore than a joy and many of us go years without pushing our limits beyond trying to figure out how to take a screenshot on our new phone.

Challenging ourselves can lead to an incredible feeling of triumph, finding new hobbies or skills that we enjoy, new career avenues more suited to our passions, even finding a new community of people to have in your life that shares your interests.

As adults, we need to once again “shove ourselves out of the nest,” if you will, fail at things, and ultimately taste that sweet feeling of accomplishment.

Intentional Living

Woman wearing sunglasses and a watermelon shawl. She has decided to choose joy.

This is a phrase that you hear about a lot lately, but many people don’t really know what intentional living is referring to.

It is simply the act of designing your life on purpose.

Think about WHAT you want to do, and DO it.

This can be the action step that catapults your other action steps into reality.

Intentional living begins with a healthy dose of self-reflection.

What do I REALLY want out of life and how do I REALLY want to be spending my minutes/days/years?

Once you have done some work to figure that out, PLAN your minutes/days/year to reflect that and spend more time on things that are actually important to you.

Don’t sit around and wonder when life will feel more fulfilling, design your life, and by doing so CHOOSE joy.

I have done you a solid by creating a FREE Intentional Living Goal Setting and Journal Template that walks you through the steps of living your life with more purpose.

Download that sucker here and get to work!

Get comfortable with your own mortality…

In my recent article about being too busy, I explain that Buddhists think about death often as a way to keep daily experiences in perspective.

This was something I learned in the fantastic book, Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan.

This may not be a topic that you are super pumped to talk about and some people are very uncomfortable even thinking about it, but other cultures have actually embraced thinking about their own mortality as a way to remember to focus on your priorities.

So how can you incorporate this into an action step?

Add it to your journaling by asking yourself, if today was my last day, what would I want to do differently, and also by reminding yourself of your own mortality when you feel yourself getting frustrated.

Our minutes are, literally, numbered-is it really worth spending some of that “time gold” getting pissed that I have to wait this long for the car wash?

I think not.

Think about how precious your time is and by doing so, choose joy.

Find mentors…

Woman reading from a mentor while drinking coffee. She has decided to choose joy

One of the best ways to shift your mindset in any direction is to find mentors who inspire you and help you learn more about both life and yourself!

This is incredibly personal as the same mentor will resonate differently for each person and you really need to find who “vibes” with you.

I have a few that I turn to that I will share with you, but it may take some research on your part to seek out mentors, reading/watching/listening to a bit from several and finding out which ones feel like they are “speaking to you.”

Sometimes, however, a mentor is plopped on your lap when you aren’t even looking.

That’s magic. Thanks, Universe.

Paulo Coelho…

“Joy is sometimes a blessing, but it is often a conquest. Our magic moment help us to change and sends us off in search of our dreams. Yes, we are going to suffer, we will have difficult times, and we will experience many disappointments — but all of this is transitory it leaves no permanent mark. And one day we will look back with pride and faith at the journey we have taken.”

Paulo Coelho, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

Yeah… This guy can inspire.

After being imprisoned in the 70s for opposition to Brazillian military rule, and a 500-mile pilgrimage on the Road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Coelho had a spiritual awakening.

He has since penned multiple books, my personal favorite being The Alchemist which was introduced and gifted to me by ANOTHER mentor (one that fell into my lap :).

In this article on escaping the trap of busyness, I swooned over a website I stumbled across called Sloww.com (hop over there asap, you won’t be sorry).

Sloww.com published a fantastic and concise piece on 5 lessons on how to choose joy brought to us from Paulo Coelho via The Alchemist.

This article is a beautiful summary of lessons from the book and I encourage you to read both the article and the book.

“The boy wandered through the desert for 40 days to find the wise man when the secret of happiness was within him the whole time. This is true of many things in life. We often search outside ourselves for what has been inside all along.

Sloww.com
My copy

Deepak Chopra

Another wise and modern-day spiritual leader I follow is Deepak Chopra.

I kind of geek out over him, as I mentioned earlier.

Chopra has also authored numerous books, including the one currently in my nightstand, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life, encourages and supports people on their journey to enlightenment through The Chopra Center, and has written extensively on choosing joy, including this article.

My nightstand stash

His popular YouTube channel, The Chopra Well, Chopra brings spiritual mentorship to the masses in a very relatable and down-to-earth way.

Here is a quickie from his channel about the difference between happiness and joy!

After this post, hop on over to our article on what Deepak Chopra believes makes people MAGNETIC.

In conclusion…

We have looked at what joy IS and many action steps to get you on the path toward finding it. For most of us, joy doesn’t just happen for us. We have to make the decision to go get it, and I hope you do what you need to do to choose joy!

Thanks for reading and take care!

GET MORE ON INTENTIONAL LIVING

RESOURCES:

Philip C. Watkins, Robert A. Emmons, Madeline R. Greaves & Joshua Bell (2018) Joy is a distinct positive emotion: Assessment of joy and relationship to gratitude and well-being, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 13:5, 522-539, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2017.1414298

Ivtzan, I., Papantoniou, A., Yoga meets Positive Psychology: Examining the
integration of Hedonic (Gratitude) and Eudaimonic (Meaning) Wellbeing in relation to the Extent of Yoga practice, Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2013), doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2013.11.005.

Aknin, L. B., Hamlin, J. K., & Dunn, E. W. (2012). Giving leads to happiness in young children. PloS one7(6), e39211. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0039211

Pholphirul, P. Happiness from Giving: Quantitative Investigation of Thai Buddhists. Applied Research Quality Life 10, 703–720 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-014-9349-8

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