In this first episode of December, we’re beginning a countdown to a productive–and joyful–new year.
What does joy have to do with a productive life?
It’s the last month of the year – which is hard to believe. I feel like the older I get the faster time passes. Of course, that’s my perception, not reality, because time doesn’t change.
I’ve been thinking for some time now that these last four episodes of the year will be a bit of a countdown to the new year, each episode focused on a different aspect of what I see as the mission of this podcast: to give you the tools and encouragement you need to manage four things: your time, your life, your stress, and your stuff.
Like many episodes, this one started as my own investigation into ways to address something I’ve been struggling with myself.
This week has been a tough one for me. Too much legal work to do for the time I have each day, struggling to keep up, to meet clients’ needs, and to keep my own life consistent with my priorities. Mostly a struggle to keep my mind in the right place–sometimes feeling frustrated, angry, mentally exhausted, and discouraged. Yet for the past few weeks, one word keeps coming to mind: joy. It feels far away and unattainable on weeks like this one.
I decided to dig into it because I keep thinking that cultivating joy might be a key–if not the key–to managing our stress and even our lives in an integrated way as we head into a new year.
What is joy?
Oprah Winfrey defines joy as “a sustained sense of well-being and internal peace — a connection to what matters.”
In her 2018 TED Talk called “Where joy hides and how to find it,” designer and author Ingrid Fetell Lee says scientists have differing definitions of it, but generally when psychologists use the term joy what they mean is “an intense momentary experience of positive emotion–one that makes us smile and laugh and feel like we want to jump up and down.” She says that feeling is one of the ways scientists measure joy.
“Joy; the kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” ~ David Steindl-Rast
How is it different from happiness?
According to Lee, happiness is a measure of how good we feel over time; joy is about feeling good in the moment. People seem to have contradictory ideas about the difference, but the predominant idea is that experiencing happiness depends on external factors, while joy is a purposeful choice. One writer says this:
“It’s possible to experience joy in difficult times. It’s possible to know joy or feel joy in spite of grief or uncertainty. Joy doesn’t need a smile in order to exist. Although joy does feels better with a happy smile, joy can share space with other emotions — sadness, fear, anger … even unhappiness. Happiness can’t. Happiness isn’t present in darkness and difficulty. It can’t be present when its antithesis rules. But once discovered, joy undergirds our spirits and brings to life peace and contentment, even in the face of unhappiness.”
One dictionary-type website defines happiness as “an emotion in which one experiences feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense pleasure,” while it says that joy is “a stronger, less common feeling than happiness. Witnessing or achieving selflessness to the point of personal sacrifice frequently triggers this emotion. Feeling spiritually connected to a god or to people.”
That article also notes that joy might be about others’ situations, while happiness generally is about the self. Joy has depth and meaning, while happiness is a more surface-level good feeling. We can pursue happiness (it’s literally written into the U.S. Declaration of Independence) but joy is a choice.
Why does it matter to a woman who wants to be productive?
Studies show happy people are more productive. If happiness is about how we feel over time, we can foster long-term happiness by recognizing, seeking, and fostering those moments of joy. If joy comes from a sense of meaningfulness, we certainly will find more joy in a life we’re intentionally creating based on our own values and priorities.
“If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment.” ~ Carlos Santana
How do we cultivate joy?
We start by making a choice
“We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” ~ Joseph Campbell
“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.” ~ Russel M. Nelson
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Intentionally avoid comparison
Avoid comparison of ourselves, our life, and our accomplishments. Beyond that, it occurs to me that my lack of joy recently stems from comparing my actual daily life to what I think it should be or what I wish it was. I want to stop that and instead look for the joy in what is.
“Comparison is the death of joy.” ~ Mark Twain
Whatever form it takes, comparison almost always sucks the joy out of your life.
Intentionally make time for experiences with people you care about
This applies to both the people you know and those in need for whom you feel and can demonstrate compassion.
“The joy that isn’t shared dies young.” ~ Anne Sexton
“A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love. She gives most who gives with joy.” ~ Mother Teresa
Watch for and celebrate the small things instead of expecting to find joy only in big things
“Optimists find joy in small things. They are more concerned with having many small joys rather than having one huge joy.” ~ Robert M. Sherfield
“The essence of life is not in the great victories and grand failures, but in the simple joys.” ~ Jonathan Lockwood Huie
Make space in your life for the things that light you up
“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” ~ Jean Shinoda Bolen
One article I read suggests we “create a joy list,” asking:
“When was the last time you took a pause to think about all the things in your life that bring you joy? Whether it’s activities, people, pets, or another joy-bringing object, reflect on it often. Take a moment and write a list of any and everything that brings you joy. That list may include anything as simple as seeing a sunrise or as deep as being thankful for a supportive spouse. If you want, keep it on your phone in a note to look over when you’re having a bad day and need a little joy lift.
Give yourself permission to experience joy
We don’t have to wait for some future date when everything falls into place the way we want it.
“Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be filled with joy.” ~ Anonymous
“Let your joy be in your journey, not in some distant goal.” ~ Tim Cook
“If you can’t find joy in the path you are on and what you are working toward now, how do you expect to find joy once you get there?” ~ Anonymous
Take care of your body and mind
It’s hard to feel good, to see or feel the joy, when you’re exhausted, malnourished, etc. Taking care of your body and mind allows you to be in the moment and find the joy there.
For your body: Sleep and rest; eat better foods; move your body; get outside into the sunshine and fresh air. All these things are good for your body, but also for your mind.
For your mind: Recognize and let go of negativity. Seek out positive, inspiring people and messages. This is what inspired this episode, as I intentionally went out looking for inspiring quotes about joy.
Create a physical space that fosters joy
In her TED Talk (mentioned above), Lee talks about “the aesthetics of joy”: tangible things that inspire a sense of joy in most people. Based on her studies, she identified common elements to many of the tangible things people respond to with feelings of joy: round shapes, pops of bright color, symmetrical patterns, a sense of abundance and “multiplicity,” a feeling of lightness or elevation. “Joy begins with the senses,” she says. Lee believes we can foster a sense of joy by the environments we create for ourselves. (On the TED Talk page for her talk, she has a link to a “Joyspotter’s Guide,” a free resource with tips for finding joy everywhere you go.)
Some final thoughts
I don’t always choose a word for the year, but this year I feel a real sense that my word for 2023 will be joy. I don’t believe that means the year will be a constant state of unmitigated joy. But what it does mean is I’ll be thinking about joy, investigating its meaning, and looking for ways to intentionally cultivate it in my life. As I do so, I’ll remember this quote from Dutch Catholic priest, writer, and theologian Henri Nouwen [pronounce: “henri nowen”], which I intend to incorporate into some sort of craft project that I can display in my home office where I’ll see it every day, and maybe into my computer desktop wallpaper:
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
In the meantime, I found a meme on social media yesterday that made me smile but also helped give me practical direction to cultivate joy in my life:
What do you think?
What brings you joy, and how are you making space for it in your life?
Resources and Links
- TPW Mastermind information and online application
- How I Optimized My Mind for More Joy & Productivity in Life & Work
- If You Want To Be More Productive At Work, Get Happy
- Happiness and Productivity: Why Productive People are Happier People
- Increased Productivity Will Increase Your Happiness
- How Productivity Leads to Happiness, According to Harvard Research | Zarvana
- Increased Productivity Will Increase Your Happiness – Calendar
- Finding Joy: 9 Ways to Seek Joy (Even When Things Are Rough)
- Seek The Joy Podcast on Apple Podcasts
- 15 Inspiring Quotes to Help You Find Joy | SUCCESS
- 31 Beautiful and Profound Joy Quotes | Spirit Button
- 35 Inspirational Quotes On Joy | AwakenTheGreatnessWithin
- The Difference Between Joy and Happiness
- What Is the Difference Between Joy and Happiness?
- Happiness vs Joy – Difference and Comparison | Diffen
- Joy VS Happiness: 11 Important Differences Between Each – Happier Human
- Joy vs Happiness: What’s the Difference? – Fun Loving Families
- Joy vs Happiness: 10 Key Differences – Minimalism Made Simple
- Joy vs happiness: 3 ways to build a more joyful life | Psychologies
- Ingrid Fetell Lee: Where joy hides and how to find it | TED Talk
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