Seven ways of finding joy in trying times

March 4, 2021

Throughout history, joy has made cameo appearances in hard times. While imprisoned in a concentration camp, Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl developed the joy and life-sustaining ideas in his influential book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that beauty, art and love need to co-exist amid devastation.* During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, there was a boom in musical comedy that offered joyous interludes and a reprieve* from troubled times.

Human beings can hold feelings of joy and sadness together in a healthy balance, where light and dark emotions are not mutually exclusive,* says Psychology Today. People can be optimistic without ignoring or denying the harsh realities of living through challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

You may have to adjust your mindset to find joy in different ways through trying times. But moments of joy are there for the taking once you reflect on relationships and experiences that matter and have meaning in your life. Be proactive in finding and grabbing sources of happiness, rather than waiting or expecting them to come to you.

Here are some tips for finding joy in daily life:

Sing or listen to your favorite music

Singing helps older adults feel joyful by triggering the release of oxytocin, the brain’s social bonding chemical, and the pleasure chemical dopamine,* reported a McGill University study.

Lend a helping hand

“Our greatest joy is when we seek to do good to others,” says Archbishop Desmond Tutu.* Doing good in the pandemic can be as simple as getting groceries for a neighbor, sharing a funny movie with a friend, or reaching out to a family member feeling lonely or sad.

Indulge your five senses

Everything you taste, smell, touch, hear and see can affect and potentially brighten your mood. Enjoy the taste and aroma of your favorite foods, seasoned with fresh herbs and spices. Bring nature into your surroundings with indoor plants that flower in winter.

Get into the flow

Immerse yourself in a task, whether it be painting a picture, building a cabinet or learning a new dance that will test your skill, but not be overwhelming or too stressful. The flow state happens when you become totally and blissfully absorbed in a task, releasing feel-good endorphins,* according to University of Chicago.

Move more and sit less

Physically active people are happier than those who are less active,* according to the Journal of Happiness Studies. Whether you go for a brisk walk or do an online tai chi class, it’s good for your emotional and physical health.

Read for pleasure

Reading a great book gives pleasure by transporting you into another world, while helping to lower pandemic anxiety and boost empathy,* suggests University of Lethbridge.

Practice mindfulness with acceptance

Doing mindfulness meditation has been shown to increase positive emotions. Monitoring and accepting your thoughts, feelings, sensations and cravings in the moment leads to stronger feelings of happiness than monitoring alone,* reported a Journal of Personal and Social Psychology study.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1. Viktor E. Frankl. “Man’s Search for Meaning.” (1959), online: https://edisciplinas.usp.br/pluginfile.php/3403095/mod_resource/content/1/56ViktorFrankl_Mans%20Search.pdf
2. cinemajam.com. “The 1930s: The divinely decadent decade for musicals.” (2020), online: http://cinemajam.com/mag/features/1930s-divinely-decadent-decade-musicals 
3. Psychology Today. “We can carry grief and joy together.” (2012), online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-grieve/201204/we-can-carry-grief-and-joy-together
4.McGill University. “Singing a melodious therapy for aging adults.” (2016), online: https://www.merriammusic.com/school-of-music/singing-a-melodious-therapy-for-aging-adults/
5. Gonzaga University. “From the editor: Turning pain to joy.” (2019),: https://www.gonzaga.edu/news-events/stories/2019/8/13/turning-pain-to-joy
6. Time. “The science of peak human performance.” (2014), online: https://time.com/56809/the-science-of-peak-human-performance/
7. University of Michigan. “Physical activity could improve your happiness, study says.” (2018), online: https://www.ajc.com/news/world/physical-activity-could-improve-your-happiness-study-says/oPD5YcRmprFdkR96W7ZHKM/
8. Global News. “Reading for pleasure can help reduce pandemic stress, increase empathy: experts. (2020), online: https://globalnews.ca/news/7450163/lethbridge-alberta-reading-popularity-covid-19/
9. Psychology Today. “The surprising reason mindfulness makes you happier.” (2020), online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/202001/the-surprising-reason-mindfulness-makes-you-happier

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