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Finding Your Joy

Many of us lose our sense of joy as we grow older.

Natalia Deriabina/Big Stock Images
Source: Natalia Deriabina/Big Stock Images

Joy is a natural part of us, and we’re wired to feel it. If you’ve spent any time with a child, you’ve witnessed how much joy we’re capable of feeling. Sadly, many of us lose our sense of joy as we grow older. I have watched a child clap excitedly when a garbage truck drove by. How many of us can say we experience that kind of delight on a daily basis? But it is possible to find your joy and live it at any age; you just have to know how to.

What is joy?

The first step in finding and living your joy is knowing what joy means. Joy is an emotion “evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune” (Merriam-Webster). It is a feeling of “great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying” ( Other words for joy include bliss, jubilance, exultation, glee, and appreciation. You can recognize joy by the physical sensations it triggers, like buoyancy in your whole body, a tingling in your chest, an irrepressible smile on your face. Joy creates a positive excitement that uplifts and expands you.

Emotions are energy; their job is to attract your attention to what is going on inside yourself in the present moment, prompt you to make decisions and give you the fuel to act. Feeling a tingle of joy is an indication that you are in touch with your true self. That is why joy is an excellent barometer for making decisions and setting goals.

What you don’t need to find your joy

To find your joy, you have to forget other people's notions of what you should want or love. If you have a long pattern of people-pleasing or are overly concerned about what others think, take this opportunity to leave that pattern behind. Your friends, parents, siblings, colleagues: They will all have opinions about what should bring you joy. Ignore them. What other people will say, what they might think, isn’t nearly as important as how you feel about your life.

You have to forget the beliefs about yourself that limit your goals. What you believe you can do has a massive impact on the goals you set, the course you follow, and what you achieve. As you pursue your joy, it’s essential to expose yourself to new, positive reference points that disrupt the limited thinking that makes you say to yourself, “Someone like me can’t do this.” Expand your expectations and craft a new vision of what is possible. Find new role models or decide that you will be a role model to someone else by living your joy.

By shedding what’s no longer serving you and consciously adopting what uplifts and expands you, you can begin to build a life filled with joy.

How to find your joy

The inspirations for joy are remarkably consistent over a lifetime. To discover what will bring you joy as an adult, consider where you found joy in your childhood and youth. Try this timeline review exercise to get started.

Take a clean piece of paper (or blank Word doc, etc.) and lay the page horizontally. Divide the page into columns by decade. For example, a person who is 55 would divide their page into six columns: Age 0-9, Age 10-19, Age 20-29, Age 30-39, Age 40-49, Age 50-55. The goal is to recall, by decade, what in your life has evoked the most joy.

In each column, write what brought you joy during that decade of your life: the activities, people, travels, experiences, and so on. Take your time and list as many as you can. Be specific about the source of the joy. For example, if you put “College” as an experience that brought you joy, think back on what in particular you enjoyed about it. Was it seeing your friends every day? Or finishing a paper and feeling accomplished? Or feeling the excitement of your first romance?

Look over your list. How do you feel? Do any items on the list evoke more feelings than the rest? Consider whether there are any items on the list that might be things you’d like to pick back up.

You may not be able to backpack through Europe as you did in your 20s, but if the feeling of discovery you get from traveling brings you joy, you can find ways to incorporate that into your life now. Take weekend road trips to places you’ve never explored before or stay local and buy a guide to your city, then explore your area like a tourist would.

To discover what brings you joy, you have to experience it from your heart. You must get beyond the barrier of your rational mind—the critical, analytical part of your brain—and adopt what is sometimes called the “beginner’s mind”—a mind not tainted or occupied by past experiences and therefore free from categorizing a new experience before you can fully explore it. To find your joy, you have to become that child clapping at the sight of a garbage truck or that young adult on their first day of college. That person is still inside of you, waiting to be rediscovered and filled with joy.

More from Andrea Brandt Ph.D. M.F.T.
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