What if the blocker stopping you from leading a joyful life wasn’t your bank balance or career frustrations, but just you? Sarah-Jane Corfield-Smith explores how, with a few simple but significant switches, you can truly change the course of your life by creating a more joyful mindset
What would a joyful life look like to you? Maybe the list might include securing your dream job (but being able to take a day off whenever you want), having an idyllic holiday home with a topaz blue pool and cocktails on tap, or even owning a pack of impossibly cute puppies that magically clear up after themselves. Ideally all three, right?
Of course, while many of us enjoy indulging such fantasies, in reality we know that for the most part, such dreams are just that. And so rather than working towards a joyful life, we end up dismissing the concept entirely as an unrealistic goal, something best left to fairy tales with their happy-ever-after endings.
Unbeknownst to many of us though, we’ve actually got the definition of ‘joy’ wrong. “A lot of people think that joy is unachievable,” explains consultant psychiatrist, Dr Arghya Sarkhel. “Yet the famous psychologist Plutchik discovered eight basic emotions that we are born with and have hard-wired into our brain, one of which is joy. Understanding it’s already inside us redefines it as something that is not beyond our reach. The key factor with joy, compared to happiness, is a sense of peace, contentment, and bliss but it has to come from within. Joy doesn’t travel towards us, we have to travel towards joy.”
Realising that joy isn’t about material things – having the best car or going on envy-inducing vacations – is indeed a game-changer. By knowing that joy is a state of mind that happens when you are connected with yourself and the people and world around you really does put you in control. Suddenly it doesn’t seem such a whimsical life goal after all.
"Joy is tied to purpose," Erica Lasan, joy strategist and founder of JOYrney To Purpose told MindBodyGreen. "People miss this. They think joy is a 'nice idea' or some state of bliss that they can never really achieve, but it's what happens when you are committing to things that are in line with your purpose and what naturally inspires you."
Giving yourself the permission to feel joy is also essential because we all can be our own worst enemies with self-criticism and self-doubt. And these traits can actively stand in the way of our own joy whether we realise we’re doing it or not. This boils down to a brutal realisation: “lots of people believe they don’t deserve joy,” explains chartered psychologist, Suzy Reading. “Our minds can be so stuck on the to-do list or a plethora of other worries that we easily fritter joy away and berate ourselves for pausing from productivity.” But the good news is that with some tweaks to our daily lives and thought processes we can turn our ability to self-sabotage our chances of joy into experiencing it, fully and whole-heartedly.
How to start living a more joy-filled life today
Joy is within our control - we just need to stop self-sabotaging. Follow these tips and expert advice to open yourself up to joy.
“You may have fleeting moments of happiness which disappear quickly and that’s because your sense of gratitude isn't there. By practising gratitude on a daily basis, you will allow happiness to seep into joy,” explains Sarkhel. “I always recommend writing your gratitude down rather than doing it in your head. And it doesn't need to take long or be complicated. Just a sentence of something you’re grateful for that day. The other benefit of writing it down is that if one day you’re struggling, and there will always be those days, looking back at previous days can help you find the gratitude.”
Find joy in small things
“Choose one daily moment to develop your ability to savour. Focusing solely on what you’re doing rather than getting swept away with distraction is a big barrier to missing out on joy,” says Reading. “Savouring is one step on from ‘noticing’ where you not only observe what's happening but you give the feeling of joy your full attention and luxuriate in it. It might be truly tasting every sip of your morning coffee, the feeling of a hug, the sensation of stroking your cat. Savour it and don’t worry about the feeling ending because it will come again. My mantra is: ‘savour the joyful and make peace with all the in-between'.”
“On a Friday or Monday sit down and look at your diary for the week, or even month, ahead. Think about how the days and weeks are making you feel,” advises psychologist Sarah Waite. Tune into those feelings and think about what you could schedule to break up that emotion. This is the logistical side of joy, and it doesn’t have to mean making big changes. If you’ve got a few days where you’re going to be on your own a lot, schedule time to talk to a friend. If you’ve got a stressful few days, plan something you know will relax and calm you down. That way you will have moments of joy interspersed in your schedule.”
Treat yourself like your BFF
“It sounds simple but to experience joy, you have to give yourself permission to do so. To do this whenever your inner critic creeps in and tells you you’re not worthy I want you to think about what you would wish for your friends and family. And then extend that same invitation to yourself,” says Reading.
Awaken the senses
“Set the intention to notice and appreciate what's happening around you and within you,” advises Reading. “Take joy in pleasurable scents, sounds, sights and sensations, which are in abundance at this time of year. For example, I like to choose my outfit based on what brings me joy, whether that's the textures, the colours or the comfort.”
Create a self-care chart
“Create a grid and along the side write: power down, power up and reconnect. Along the bottom write: activities, places, and people so that you have a grid containing nine squares. In each write the activity, place or people you would turn to when you’re feeling low to power you up, what would help power you down when you’re feeling stressed and the things that would help when you feel a bit lost and need to reconnect with life. This then serves as a joy-inducing checklist that you can turn to whenever you need it. And keep updating the chart. Those people, places and activities may change in different stages of your life or even in different seasons,” says Waite.