How to Create Joy

NPR recently published From Gloom To Gratitude: 8 Skills To Cultivate Joy.  This piece covered the methods and outcomes of a program designed for caregivers for people living with dementia.  Life Enhancing Activities for Family Caregivers (LEAF) is a 6-week positive emotion regulation intervention that taught caregivers 8 skills in an attempt to build more positive emotions alongside the negative emotions.

Here are the skills taught throughout the program:

  1. Take a moment to identify one positive event each day.   
  2. Tell someone about the positive event or share it on social media. This can help you savor the moment a little longer.   
  3. Start a daily gratitude journal. Aim to find little things you’re grateful for, such as a good cup of coffee, a pretty sunrise or nice weather.   
  4. Identify a personal strength and reflect on how you’ve used this strength today or in recent weeks.   
  5. Set a daily goal and track your progress. “This is based on research that shows when we feel progress towards a goal, we have more positive emotions,” Moskowitz says. The goal should not be too lofty. You want to be able to perceive progress.   
  6. Try to practice “positive reappraisal”: Identify an event or daily activity that is a hassle. Then, try to reframe the event in a more positive light. Example: If you’re stuck in traffic, try to savor the quiet time. If you practice this enough, it can start to become a habit.   
  7. Do something nice for someone else each day. These daily acts of kindness can be as simple as giving someone a smile or giving up your seat on a crowded train. Research shows we feel better when we’re kind to others.   
  8. Practice mindfulness by paying attention to the present moment. You can also try a 10-minute breathing exercise that uses a focus on breathing to help calm the mind.  

Many of the participants reported an improvement in mood and a decrease in depression just by employing these practices. The shift from what isn’t working to what is working, or from examining what is so bad to what may still be good, can make a big difference.

This ties into another piece recently published, this one by the New York Times, on Washing Dishes. The author reframes the drudgery of life’s tasks as the good stuff in life. 

“But lately I’ve been wondering what that time and space is for. Implied in the quest for convenience is a distinction between the life we deem worth living and the life we have to endure in order to get there. One is a possibility, the other an obligation; one is a means, the other an end. Look at dishwasher ads from the 1950s, when the appliance became commonplace, and you see narratives of a life reclaimed, an escape from the purgatory of work into the freedom of leisure. Life hacks, multitasking, the ruthless compression of our daily routine: We still frame the ordinary as something that exists only for the thing beyond it, as a hazard to be optimized away instead of an organism to be nurtured and interacted with.”

(The whole piece is short and worth reading.)

When there are hard things in life that we cannot change, maybe we can shift our perspectives just a little to open up the small joys.