The new year often heralds a time of reflection, change, and rejuvenation. However, the pandemic we’re currently living through has potentially changed this for many of us. The past year has been challenging on many fronts, and unfortunately, the start of this year hasn’t been much different.
In my recent work with a client, we spent some time talking about ways in which she’s managed to combat anxiety and feelings of overwhelm. Around the same time, I was chatting with a dear friend about how she’s managing her stress and what feels like a never-ending cascade of bad news. In their own different ways, they’ve come to notice that while the stress hasn’t decreased and the uncertainty is still looming, they’ve found an antidote that seems to give them some relief – joy.
They both shared stories of experiencing joy that have eased their distress and given them a mental boost. These experiences ranged from unexpected care packages, touching music, or simple connections with loved ones, all of which have served to increase their joy. In turn, they have both experienced increased distress tolerance, improved mood, and a general sense of contentment.
Experiencing moments of joy throughout the day – whether they’re small or otherwise – can help us buffer stress and foster resilience.
Similar to a daily gratitude practice, experiencing moments of joy throughout the day – whether they’re small or otherwise – can help us buffer stress and foster resilience. Here are five sensory ways to experience joy in your daily life:
Spending time in nature has been shown to have positive impacts on our physical and mental well-being. I recently had my first experience with forest bathing, an experience that originates in Japan, known there as shinrin-yoku. In its essence, it is the practice of mindfully being in nature. For myself, it was a guided experience, where we spent two hours in an urban park, walking and engaging in mindful activities including visually noticing colour and movement. I experienced a quiet but profound joy in those two hours that carried me through the rest of my week.
I invite you to go for a walk (or even a drive) and see what your eyes notice that can bring you joy. Is it the sunrise or sunset over the prairies? Is it the majesty of snowcapped mountains? Is it the sun shining on the white snow? How about the dewdrops on the flowers? Or is it the moving waters of rivers and oceans?
The other day, my two-year-old niece and four-year-old nephew tried to bite me. When I redirected them to do something different with their mouths like saying something nice or singing a song, they both decided to give me kisses. My heart just filled with joy with their exuberance and sheer enjoyment of peppering me with kisses and receiving them in return.
Research shows that hugging can improve mood (by releasing serotonin and dopamine – brain chemicals that can enhance our mood). The joy we can feel with positive experiences of touch are some of the simple yet most meaningful pleasures of life. So, hug a loved one, have a tickle fight, give or receive a foot massage, cuddle on the couch, or hold hands on a walk.
Confucius said that “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” Music can have an incredible impact on our emotional states; many of us can recall songs that have brought us to tears, touched our hearts, or made us jump for joy. Music provides a soundtrack to our lives. Depending on our moods, we usually choose music to match that mood. I have playlists for weekend relaxation, to energize me when I’m working out, or my favourite: a playlist for my drive out to the mountains that elicits such joy and contentment for me.
Create your own playlists with music that brings you joy and touches your heart. Listen while on a drive or have a dance party in your living room. Invite your children, your spouse, or your roommate to join in. And for an extra spurt of joy, bring laughter into your dance party!
Create your own playlists with music that brings you joy and touches your heart.
There are certain taste experiences that make us feel so good, like a hug on the inside – that cold bite of ice cream on a warm day or that first sip of coffee in the morning. Like music, food experiences can also provoke strong feelings. This is evident in how many cultures connect food with community and social connections – things that also bring us feelings of joy (my colleague Vicki Enns also wrote about experiencing joy with others here).
Most of us can identify a comfort food or something that we gravitate towards when we crave comfort or nourishment, so give yourself a joyful experience of food. Make yourself and your loved ones a meal that tastes good; share a treat like warm cookies out of an oven; savour a hot cup of tea and a visit with a friend; or cuddle on the couch with some hot chocolate.
As with our auditory senses, our sense of smell can strongly connect us with memories and emotions. There are scents that remind us of loved ones, bring us to a certain time and place, and others yet that can evoke a sense of calm or relaxation. For me, the smell of incense used in my Sudanese culture instantly reminds me of family and connection.
Create a ritual around your sense of smell that can bring you joy in your daily life. Light a candle with a favourite smell after dinner; diffuse some essential oils for an aromatherapy experience; or buy flowers that smell pleasing to you.
These are just some starting suggestions. Use these as a guide, and perhaps create a list of joyful experiences that you can do on a regular basis. They don’t have to be time consuming or elaborate. Most of us can agree that it’s often the small things that have the biggest impact. You may already be doing some of the things listed above – if they bring you joy, continue doing them, but try to bring some intention and mindfulness to the experience. Remind yourself to be present and connect with the joyfulness of the moment.
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