What is joy?
Joy (noun) | a feeling of great pleasure and happiness
How does joy show up for you? Is there a physical feeling, manifested in your body? Is it a temperature change, a grin, a buzz in your bones?
Joy shows up as a cool breeze on my neck met with butterflies in my stomach. Over time, the joy subsides and becomes happiness, peace, contentment, enjoyment, and ease.
We can’t always exist in a state of joy, as responsibilities and obligations creep in from all sides. We can’t pretend that there aren’t times where stresses mount, phones ring, and emails pile up. But just because there are moments of stress and tension doesn’t mean there can’t also be moments of pure, happy joy.
If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and like you’ve lost a little bit of light, here are ten easy ways to spark joy in your day right now.
1. Take the scenic route instead of the freeway
Did you know that you can choose to “avoid highways” on your phone’s GPS? The next time you’re getting in the car for your regular commute, plan to leave an extra 10-15 minutes early and skip the freeway grind you’ve done a thousand times.
Some of the greatest hidden gems are still, in fact, hidden, and you’ll never find them by taking the same road every day. Little cafes hiding inside neighborhoods, a quirky yoga studio built into a Victorian-era home on the border of an industrial park, the thrift store that hasn’t been completely pilfered yet.
Taking the scenic route can mean driving by the water, the park, or simply driving on a city street with a slower speed limit. Take time to look around you, and prioritize enjoyment over efficiency.
This is an easy way to give yourself a lift every once in a while, and it’s great because you don’t have to do it every day. The novelty is what makes it joyful. But I’ll warn you, taking the scenic route can become addicting.
2. Give a gift or service to someone in need
My mother used to say, “When you’re feeling bad, the best way to feel better is to do something for someone else.”
It’s true – paying for the next person’s coffee or bringing a favorite treat to a friend spreads joy universally because you’re stepping outside of your normal self-focused routine and choosing to do right by someone else.
Kindness doesn’t have to cost, either. If buying a stranger’s beverage isn’t your cup of tea, consider assisting a friend or family member with a task, like rearranging their living room or painting their bathroom.
3. Plan a fantastic trip – even if it isn’t in the cards just yet
There’s a joy in imagining what’s possible in the future. Plan a fantastic trip – one where you’re not held back by what’s realistic. Just this process will spark joy in your mind.
Maybe there’s a family member you’ve wanted to visit for years but never bought the ticket. Or, to a conference you’ve wanted to attended but could never get time off. What would it look like if you actually went?
Imagine the trip in as much detail as you can.
Imagine the places you would visit, whether you’d take a plane, a train, an Uber, or if you’d rent a camper van and road trip. Look up cafes and bookstores and boutiques and monuments on Instagram geotag, bookmarking your favorites into a collection. Hop onto Pinterest for travel guides focused on your destination and the surrounding area.
Who knows, these plans could come in handy someday.
4. Donate your unwanted items to a local charity
You may be into minimalism or not, but simply getting rid of a few unwanted items can spark some of the most serious joy you can imagine.
We all have things that we no longer need or use, but that still occupy our space. We all learn to put up with these annoyances – the blender you never use but that’s taking up precious space in the pantry that you always feel is too small – and that does us no good.
Imagine how good it would feel to actually get that extra stuff out of your home, giving you newfound space and breathing room, all while knowing that stuff was also getting use from someone who really needed it? Joy!
Goodwill and Salvation Army are household names, but take an extra hour to search for local relief agencies, especially those that focus on collecting the specific items you have.
Some organizations provide housing and all that entails (furniture, decor, appliances, etc.) to individuals leaving domestic violence situations; others provide wardrobes to women just leaving incarceration. Big-box donation options are definitely making a difference, but you may be able to get more hands-on and see more tangible benefit when you give to local impact organizations.
5. Strike up conversation with a stranger
Mother may have said don’t talk to strangers, but how are we supposed to make new friends? Let me caution you – talking to a stranger is not commenting on their shoes then telling them your life story. Connecting with a stranger is an opportunity to manifest joy for the both of you.
Share a compliment, laugh at a mutual silly sighting, ask for a recommendation in the neighborhood. By expressing a true interest in another person and their experience or opinion, you’ll both benefit from the afterglow long after you’ve parted ways.
6. Go on a local adventure
Piggy back this idea onto your “avoid highways” GPS choice for a joy-filled afternoon! In the time it would take you to watch a few episodes of something on Netflix, you could find joy in discovering new places in your town.
Start with a recommendation from a friend or stranger, like where one could find a beautiful bench under a tree for reading. Or stop into a coffee shop you’ve walked past a hundred times but never visited, and order whatever the barista tells you is the best drink.
If you’re in for a more advanced local adventure, check out Geocaching.
Geocaching in a community-sourced scavenger hunt happening all around you. Some folks hide little containers with logs in which you record your name and the day you found it. Others hide tokens and oddball knick-knacks that carry meaning merely because you worked to find them! There is pure joy in discovering something, especially something that only you and a select few others know about.
My favorite geocaches are multi-part searches, with interesting information about the surrounding area and scavenger hunt prompts that teach about local history and culture along the way. To get started you can download a geocaching app, or search online to find your local geocaching community!
7. Cultivate a ‘free fun’ list
Can’t get outside for an adventure right this very minute? Compile a list to refer back to for later! If you find joy in listmaking, this one is already a win. And, if you enjoy opportunities for free fun, this activity builds your arsenal of ideas, easily accessible when the question inevitably arises, “Well, what do you want to do?”
Do some searching online and in your neighborhood for free fun, or low-cost fun that merely requires you to bring your own resources. A few ideas to get you started:
- Walking or biking trails.
- Free museums and galleries.
- Walking the circumference of the farmers market on Saturday morning to sample the latest offerings.
- Stargazing in a hammock at a nearby park.
- Free matinee days or nighttime movies in the park.
- Photographing aesthetically-interesting neighborhoods or buildings
When you find yourself craving a bit of happiness or feel yourself down in the dumps, find a free, fun activity that’s sure to spark joy.
8. Leave a big tip at lunch or at the coffee shop
This is a financial option that may not always work for you, but when you can, you have the opportunity to make someone else’s day for a few bucks. When you’re out to lunch and only order a salad and a water, surprise your waiter with a big tip.
Sometimes we encounter an individual in the hospitality industry whose service is less-than-satisfactory, who may be busy or occupied, torn between many tables, or seeming like they have other things on their mind. When I meet someone in this situation and I’m able to do so, I try to bring a bit of joy at the end of the meal by leaving a sizable tip and a nice note, like, “Thank you for the lovely meal”.
It isn’t about acknowledging where they went wrong, but more about seeing the power you have as the person who might turn their day, week, or life around with a small act of kindness.
9. Make something for the fun of it
It seems like every time someone makes something great – a delicious loaf of bread, a knitted hat, a lovely greeting card – there’s someone to say to that person, “You are so talented! You should sell your stuff at markets!” But sometimes the joy lies in the simple act of making, and there’s no need to try to take it further.
Being an entrepreneur is fantastic, and the opportunity to be paid for your creativity is quite an accomplishment. But don’t let the cost or profitability of your hobbies stand in the way of making for pleasure.
If you want to sit and doodle, just doodle! If you want to take a master sewing series and learn to sew dresses, don’t feel the need to justify it! Get your hands busy and make something for the sheer joy of the process.
10. Disconnect (for a little while)
When I’m feeling a lack of joy, I’m typically feeling a lot of other things, like overwhelm and burnout. Those may not always go hand-in-hand, but there’s nothing a little disconnection from technology and constant communication can’t fix.
Remember how 10-15 years ago we could go to the mall or the park and not be bothered by anyone? We could get away in our own city and get the messages from our answering machine when we got home. Now, it’s hard to imagine not picking up our phone multiple times per hour, habitually opening apps and refreshing emails.
Remove the distraction and the temptation to fill your brain with more thoughts and stimuli. Step away from your laptop, tablet, phone, TV, smartwatch, and simply go ‘be’ somewhere. It can be with a book, a friend, a crossword puzzle… let your head clear out a bit. In the quiet of an unperturbed mind, you’ll notice an increased sensitivity to the joys all around you.