Joy & Happiness

What is joy? What is happiness? What removes it from life? How can we get it, or get it back? Ever thought about these questions? Have you ever wondered why your life may not feel joyful, serene, and happy?  As a psychologist, I hear a lot of people ask these questions. They wonder how they can grab joy and happiness as they amble through their daily routines. New studies show that joy is a feeling you don’t necessarily have to be born with. You can learn to feel joy and happiness a step at a time.

In a book by Donald Altman, MA, LPC, The Joy Compass: 8 Ways to Find Lasting Happiness, Gratitude & Optimism in the Present Moment he writes that joy can be learned, practiced and incorporated into our lives.   First and foremost, Altman says we must focus on removing “should” from the way we think, measuring ourselves against what we “should do” or “should be.” Replacing this concept with “could” is a powerful switch because it allows us to choose what we will do, and it promotes flexibility and a gentle voice that can lead to happiness and joy.  Joy and happiness seem to be simple concepts, but they’re actually difficult to define. Some psychologists say happiness focuses on being able to enjoy and engage with other people and live a life that is meaningful and has a perceived purpose. Others focus on the relatively brief feelings of joy and pleasure.

No matter how you define it, if you want more joy you may be more vulnerable as you become aware of your surroundings and cognizant of your reactions to it.  According to author and psychologist Brené Brown, Ph.D, LMSW, “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.” He adds, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”

So what do we do? How to we become more joyful?

First we realize that we’re going to be vulnerable as we enter this exercise, but we have to move forward understanding that vulnerability is part of our walk toward joy and happiness. We also realize that joy is something we work for; it’s not always just given to us.

Next we can begin by changing our inner language from “should” to “could,” we begin to make decisions about what we will do, who we will spend time with, how we will respond, etc.

Tal Ben-Shahar, a sought after lecturer at Harvard University and author of Happier, focuses on five points we must incorporate into our lives to be become happy:

1. We must accept painful emotions in our lives and realize that these feelings allow us to be alive, to be human and open to ourselves.

2. We must spend quality time with people we care about, family and friends who care about us. These people will help us feel good about ourselves because they know us and understand us.

3. We have to incorporate regular physical exercise into our lives. Exercising at least 30 to 40 minutes three times each week begins to change the functioning of our brain and activates hormones that help us feel happier.

4. Feel gratitude and write about it. Try keeping a gratitude journal writing five things each day that helped us feel happier, more optimistic, successful or physically healthier.

5. Simplify. Less is more, but often that message is not heard in this busy world. We must not respond to every email, Ben-Shahar says. We should turn off our phones for a couple of hours when we come home from work or school. We must try very diligently to simplify aspects of our lives.

Happiness can be ours if we’ll work for it. Try these simple suggestions and see what happens. I think you’ll begin to see some amazing results!

Aaron Dodini, M.S., M.A., Ph.D.