9 tips to finding joy
in unexpected places
Finding joy in my life has become an active daily practice. I’d been looking for joy my whole life, just not consciously, not with purpose in mind. Now it’s intentional. Following these practices daily has increased the amount of joy I experience exponentially. In fact, as a result I generally move through the world in a state of joy.
Actively seeking joy greatly increases the likelihood of finding it. I can’t find it if I’m not even looking for it. Sometimes just the thought, “Hmmm, is there joy to be found in this moment?” will bring me joy, or at least a little giggle, which is always a step along the path to joy.
The impact these practices can have on your daily experience is entirely up to you. I wish for you all the joy you can handle!
Are you time-traveling?
What are you thinking about as you read this? In between words or sentences or seemingly on top of reading, there are most likely thoughts racing through your head. Are you thinking about things that need to be done? Are you looking ahead with trepidation to some future event? Planning with the hopes of solving some current problem? Are you in the past reliving some experience and trying to figure out how to avoid that situation again?
If you are thinking about past or future events, you are not in the present. Now, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn from the past or plan for the future. Those are both necessary. But how often you do it, and how long you get stuck in the loop of planning or reliving are good things to pay attention to. The step here is to notice where you are.
Here’s the cool thing about this, the moment you stop to notice where you are, you’re actually dropping into the present moment for a bit. Notice how that feels. For me, I notice that I feel calmer, more peaceful, when I’m watching what I’m doing, placing my exquisite attention on my own thoughts and making decisions from there.
The eyes have it!
Look around you right now. What are you seeing? What catches your attention? For me, right now, I could be noticing the stack of papers that I need to go through later today, or the fact that the sun is just in this moment hitting the sparkly votive holders than I have on top of the piano, sending out rainbow prisms all over the room. I will get to those papers, so right now I’m choosing to stop writing for a bit to breathe in the beauty of the sunlight refracting through the glass and creating magic on the walls.
Did you hear that?
Where is your attention in terms of sound? Are you paying attention to the loudest sound or the softest? Is that sound close to you or further away?
Right now for me, it’s quiet and still. What I hear most is the soft tick-tock of the regulator school clock on the wall. And, if I move my attention from that soft sound to even softer ones, I can hear a bird trilling just outside my door. You can practice this with your favorite song. See how many different instruments you can hear, different harmonies, how the instruments interweave with each other. Right now, what are you hearing? Spend 10 seconds just listening. What do you notice? How does what you’re noticing make you feel?
Oh yeah, that feels good!
Place your attention on your clothing and how that feels on your skin. Does the air feel warm or cool on your skin? Is the fabric of your clothing soft, slippery, stiff, tickly, itchy, too tight, too loose? What are you feeling right now? Can you find a pleasant sensation?
Scan your body for sensations. Here are some possible sensations: throbbing, creeping, twisting, lengthening, vibrating, knotting, pricking, wiggling, gurgling, quivering, pulsing, pulling, burning, pressing, itching, dancing. Get creative. Put your attention on your body and see if you can identify what you’re actually feeling.
Notice that you probably first looked for or noticed an uncomfortable sensation. Now try looking for a lovely one. If you did notice a pleasant sensation first, congratulations! You’re well on the way to finding joy in unexpected places.
For me right now, I’m noticing a streaming, bubbling sensation in my belly. I’m excited and happy to be sharing tips with you so that you might experience more joy in your life as well. More joyful people means more fun for me!
Savoring taste is a great way to find joy. When you slow down to actually taste the food you’re eating or the liquid you’re drinking, you bring yourself into the present moment, and from there it’s always easier to find joy. Joy can be found in the past and the future, but I find it has a much stronger impact when I choose to seek it and celebrate joy in the present.
I just took a sip of cool water from our well, and I’m noticing that it has a slightly sweet taste to it and that, coupled with the cooling sensation as it glides over my lips and tongue and down the back of my throat, elicits a satisfied sigh. Ahhh, a quiet form of joy.
What’s that smell?
Scent is everywhere. In fact, for me it often feels like an onslaught of information, so I find that I usually choose to put my attention on the more subtle scents in the air, sensing past the heavier ones, but that’s my preference. You could prefer the wafting perfume of the lilac or the tiger lily, or even something like diesel fuel. Scent is a powerful tool for bringing back memories. When I was in college, the choir I sang with travelled around the country each January to sing in different locations. We often traveled in diesel buses, so now when I smell diesel, I am flooding with fabulous memories of singing and friendship.
What sorts of smells do you prefer? Stop, in this moment, take a deep breath in and smell what’s in the air right now. Do you like what you’re smelling? If you don’t, what could you do to change that?
Breathe, baby, breathe!
One of the fastest ways I know of to slow myself down and bring me back to the present moment is to take a deep, slow breath. The simple act of putting my attention on my breathing allows for joy to bubble up purely because that’s where my attention is.
There are all sorts of scientific studies showing how important slow, deep breathing is. What I know is that it reliably brings me back to a state of ease. And from that state of ease and grace, I can look around and find something joyful. So, in this moment, place your attention on your breath. See if you can slow it down to a count of six seconds in and then six seconds out. Do that three times. Now what are you feeling and noticing?
I love to Laugh, ha ha ha!
Laughing produces endorphins. The funny thing about laughter is that even if things don’t feel funny to me, it is possible to start with a “fake” laugh and have that actually turn into real laughter! The first time I did that — laughed when I wasn’t feeling laughter — after about 20 seconds I busted up into real laughter because the whole concept of laughing when I wasn’t happy was just so darn funny! And from there, with the actual laughter bubbling through my system, everything else started to lighten up.
There’s this whole movement called Laughter Yoga, which is basically a bunch of different types of laughter that you can do when you’re not actually feeling like laughing. Here’s what makes it so fabulous as a trick: “fake” laughter almost always inspires real laughter. The act of bouncing your diaphragm to create those “Santa” belly laughs triggers the real thing. So, pretend you’re Santa and laugh and see what happens! (Yes, you may feel like you look like a fool. It might be worth it, yes?)
Finding Gratitude: Fake it till you make it!
There are so many articles out in the world right now about gratitude. And there’s a reason for that. It works. Here’s my little trick around this. I start with those things that I already feel genuine gratitude for.
I have an obsession with birds. In particular, the pygmy nuthatch. I have no idea why they delight me so, but they do. I know that when I hear them flying towards me, chattering away as they are wont to do, I break into a huge grin and look up. So, if I’m feeling stuck, I know that I can think about my pygmy nuthatches and I will automatically smile at the thought. From there, I can look around and find other things that bring me joy that I appreciate and have gratitude for.
Sometimes it’s hard to find things to be grateful for. If I’m feeling particularly unhappy and stuck in a story where I play the victim, for just a moment I will put my attention on my birds, or my family, or some other thing that I adore (like the triple spiral labyrinth), then a smile spreads across my face, and those muscles firing in precisely that way will trigger a cascade of “happy” hormones.
It is much easier to find joy when those hormones are racing through my blood stream. It’s a form of “fake it till you make it,” but it’s seeded with a truth. The truth is that I love my pygmy nuthatches. They always trigger joy for me, so I use them for that. I don’t always love my family. I mean I do, of course, but I don’t always like what’s happening with them, that’s called life. And that’s why I use the birds. Find the thing that always delights you, and use the thought of that to shift your perspective back t0 gratitude and from there, look for joy.