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Coronavirus Disease 2019

How to Experience Joy During COVID-19

An interview with Pamela King on pursuing joy amidst a pandemic.

Pamela King, used with permission
Source: Pamela King, used with permission

COVID-19 does not have to only produce negative emotions and experiences. We can also work to find and share joy during difficult times like the one we are in now.

Through her research, Pamela Ebstyne King, Ph.D., has sought to understand joy. She is the Peter L. Benson Associate Professor of Applied Developmental Science at the Thrive Center for Human Development in the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Her primary academic interests focus on the intersection of human thriving, moral, and spiritual development. King is coauthor of The Reciprocating Self: Human Development in Theological Perspective, and co-editor of The Handbook of Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence. Her research has been published in various journals such as Developmental Psychology, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Applied Developmental Science, Journal of Research on Adolescence, Journal of Positive Psychology, and The Journal of Psychology and Theology. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, USA.

This is part two of a two-part interview with King; you can find part one here.

Jamie Aten: How might readers apply what you found to their lives during COVID-19?

Pamela Ebstyne King: The reality is that joy is natural, but it does not always come naturally—especially in the middle of a global pandemic and national unrest. Sometimes we need to work at joy and cultivate it. We need to tend to those things, activities, relationships, and beliefs that are life-giving. Practically speaking, this involves becoming more aware of when we feel profound joy and pursuing those things more intentionally. In other words, make joy a habit.

During this disruptive season of COVID-19, this can be especially helpful to not only cope with the challenges and disappointments, but also to help guide you toward what brings you a sense of purpose and meaning in life. For many, so much of life has been disrupted—work, school, relationships, daily rhythms. Taking time to get clear on what brings life-giving joy is timely and essential.

Reflect at the end of a day or the end of the week on when you experienced the most joy or when you felt most alive. Get curious about those moments and take note or journal about it. In addition, take some time to reflect on your life. What seasons, memories, or elements of your life brought you the most joy? In addition, consider how your beliefs may provide hope for the future and be a source of anticipated joy.

Remember, joy is different from happiness. Although they are connected through positive feelings, keep in mind joy involves what holds ultimate significance in your life.

JA: How can readers use what you found to help others amidst this pandemic?

PEK: Spark joy in other people. Apply this framework of growing as an authentic self, in relationships, and in our values. For example, be intentional about how you can encourage others to grow in their strengths. When you see your spouse, partner, or co-worker light up and/or do something really well, affirm them for that. In these stressful days, we easily lose sight of our strengths.

Encourage others to do things with and for other people. Set an example for your children of spending energy and time not just with others, but for others. In addition, create spaces for those closest to you to re-evaluate life priorities, values, and beliefs. Individual performance and success are dominant within the U.S. When they are relentlessly pursued without consideration to other sources of joy that we find in our connections with others and our ultimate beliefs, the American Dream begins to feel like the American scheme. Be a safe space for those around you to wrestle with their life’s purpose and ideals.

Please note: All of this is a process. In turbulent times, don’t expect major changes or radical adjustments, but welcome and celebrate growth and make room for those around you to thrive.

JA: What are you currently working on that you might like to share about?

PEK: My work broadly focuses on human thriving, and I am particularly interested in the role of spirituality in thriving. I understand thriving to be adaptive growth towards one’s purpose. Purpose includes all those things that bring us the most joy—becoming our best self for and with others, and for and with our highest ideals.

As part of the Thrive Center for Human Development at Fuller Theological Seminary, we do research and produce resources that promote thriving and resilience. In the last several months, we created many resources on thriving, not just surviving, through COVID, which can be found here. Regarding research, my lab is working with Compassion International (CI), Tufts University, and Boston College on the CI Study of Positive Youth Development. We are studying the roles of youth strengths and the developmental resources available through CI that help youth living in poverty thrive. More information on this study can be found here.

I’ll close by saying pursue joy, especially in stressful times. Joy can be a great resource if you allow deep positive emotions and the convictions about what matters fuel and direct you. They have the potential to bring light in these sometimes dark and trying times and will propel you in your journey to thrive.

Follow Pam King on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or ResearchGate.


Extended bio:

Dr. Pam King’s current research includes studies on environments that promote thriving and on the nature and function of spiritual development in diverse adolescents and emerging adults. She has extensively studied and written on conceptualizations of thriving and positive youth development.

King, P. E. (2019). Joy Distinguished: Teleological Perspectives of Joy as a Virtue. Journal of Positive Psychology, 15:1, 33-39, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2019.1685578

King, P. E., & Defoy, F. (2020). Joy as a Virtue: The Means and Ends of Joy. Journal of Psychology and Theology.

King, P. E. & Argue, S. (2020). #joyonpurpose: Finding joy on purpose. In D. White and S. Farmer (Eds). Joy as Guide to Youth Ministry. Nashville: General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church.

Yale Divinity School: Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King on Purpose and Joy.

Funding source: Yale Center for Faith and Culture from John Templeton Foundation. I was just awarded a new grant from Biola (Pete Hill and Bob Emmons) that is funded by JTF on Gratitude to God.

Follow the Thrive Center on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, or visit their website here.

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