What brings you joy? 5 tips for a joyful life.

A joyful woman
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I think it’s fair to say that everyone wants to be happy and we tend to invest our time into things we think will bring us joy down the track.

Robert Waldinger, Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development knows a thing or two about joy. In his 2015 TED Talk titled ‘What makes a good life? lessons from the longest study on happiness,’ he said that in a survey asking millennials what their most important life goals were, over 80 percent said that the quest for riches was a major life goal. Of the same group, 50 percent said that becoming famous was a major life goal.

So do money and fame bring joy? There are many depressed millionaires, billionaires, and celebrities out there, so these things are probably not the key to joy. Luckily, experts like Waldinger have looked into the topic of happiness, and they’ve found some common themes.

5 tips for a joyful life

1. Find joy in the little things

Dr. Glenn Williams, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University said “An effective route to happiness is not necessarily through experiencing major events that we might have planned out such as getting married, getting that all-important promotion, or even being on a holiday. Rather it is the small, and often unexpected pleasures in life that can make us smile each and every day to help us build happier and more meaningful lives for ourselves and for others.”

Isn’t it good to know that you don’t have to spend a fortune or score a big win to be joyful? At the same time, to find joy in the little things, you need to first notice them. So being present and ‘in the moment’ is crucial.

Here are some ideas on how to find joy in the little things:

  1. This is cliche but stop to smell the roses. Literally!
  2. Sleep-in
  3. Binge-watch your favorite TV show
  4. Walk barefoot on the grass or sand and be one with nature
  5. Notice the smell of freshly washed bed sheets
  6. On a rainy day, curl up in bed and listen to the soothing sounds of raindrops falling
  7. Give someone you love a warm hug
  8. Smile at a stranger
  9. Pay it forward
  10. Sit in the sun with a cup of tea or lunch

2. Joy in relationships

Scientific studies have proven that keeping healthy relationships and embracing community helps us feel more joyful and live longer. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, which followed two groups of men over almost 80 years shed light on some interesting things. The longitudinal study delivered a cornucopia of data on the mens’ physical and mental health.

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships have a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too.

The study revealed that close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. These relationships help to keep people mentally and physically healthier for longer. Forget social class, IQ, and genes, healthy relationships trump all three when it comes to predictors of long and joyful lives.

“When we gathered together everything we knew about them at age 50, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old,” said Waldinger in his TED Talk. “It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”

So spend time with people who make you feel good about life and invest time in these relationships, because they may just keep you healthier for longer.

3. Plan something exciting

Anticipating an exciting event brings you more joy than looking back on the same event found a 2007 study by experts from the University of Colorado at Boulder and Queen’s University. The study, composed of 5 experiments found that anticipation was more evocative than retrospection.

So it’s always good to be looking forward to something.

Another study conducted in 2010 on vacationers delivered the same results. That the anticipation brings more joy than the retrospection. The participants felt the most joy during the vacation, but there was a steep incline in joy during the period of anticipation. Once the vacation was over, their levels of joy were lower than that of the anticipation stage.

What can you plan and look forward to?

  1. A vacation
  2. A night out with friends
  3. A date night
  4. Watching your favorite Netflix series
  5. Starting a new hobby
  6. Signing up to a course doing something you love
  7. Meeting up with someone special you haven’t seen in a while
  8. Volunteering
  9. A decadent dinner out
  10. A live show
5 tips for a joyful life

4. Meditate

Study after study supports the theory that meditation is great for your health and can bring you joy. It can literally change your brain. The term ‘neuroplasticity’ is used to describe your brain changing as a response to experience and studies show that meditation can do that for you. Meditation has been shown to be associated with changes to gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective-taking.

Meditation has been proven to lower anxiety and blood pressure levels. But the great thing about it is that you will experience the benefits beyond the time that you are actually meditating. Meditation has also been known to reduce the symptoms of depression, eating disorders, and chronic pain.

So if something can bring you joy in the moment, and keeps giving you joy for weeks and months to come, it must be a winner.

5. Practice gratitude

Some people are naturally more positive than others. You know, the glass half full, beaming balls of sunshine kind of people? Well, I’m not one of them. I mean I do see the positives in my life but I also focus on the negatives, and sometimes the negatives are really magnified in my mind. For a long time, I thought I was in the minority until I learned about the Negativity Bias.

Negativity Bias is our tendency to focus more on negative stimuli at the time it happens and to dwell on these situations, says science. It means we are less likely to remember praise and more likely to remember criticism. Yes, that’s me.

So where does gratitude come into the picture?

If we know we naturally have a negative bias, then it’s all the more important to consciously focus on the positives in everything. Practice gratitude.

Studies show that gratitude can bring about many benefits to your life. In one study, psychologists from the University of California and the University of Miami asked participants to write a few sentences each week. One group wrote about things they were grateful for and other wrote about things that irritated them.

After 10 weeks, the participants in the group who practiced gratitude felt better and more optimistic about their lives. They exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who wrote about their irritations.

For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.

If we focus on the things that bring us joy, we’re more likely to feel joy. So bring it on!

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