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8 Keys to Greater Joy and Vitality

Research-validated practices to energize and inspire you in troubled times.

Key points

  • Research shows that finding moments of joy during troubled times can build our resilience.
  • We can experience joy in practices such as connecting with nature, meditating, reaching out to others, and appreciating beauty.
  • Over time, these practices can build our vitality, hope, and resilience.
Photo. Happy Daughter. Michael Dam, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Source: Photo. Happy Daughter. Michael Dam, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve been feeling stressed and low-energy lately, you’re not alone. For the past two years, our lives have been turned upside down by the Covid pandemic, political conflict, economic uncertainty, lost jobs, lost relationships, and now the heartbreaking war in Ukraine. Yet research shows that during troubled times, responding with moments of joy amid the suffering can bring us greater meaning and resilience (Berrios, Totterdell, & Kellett, 2018).

Like daily vitamins that increase our vitality, these moments of joy are what I call “spiritual vitamins.” Positive psychology research shows how these revitalizing practices can energize and inspire us, building our capacity for hope. As you review this list, think of three “spiritual vitamins” you can add to your life.

1. Connecting with Nature

Research reveals how connecting with nature can improve our health, raising our mood, creativity, and overall vitality (Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008; Howell, et al., 2011; Kaplan, 1995; Ryan, et al., 2010). You can connect with nature in many ways, from walking in your neighborhood or a nearby park to cultivating a garden, placing a bird feeder outside your window, or growing herbs indoors on a sunny window sill.

2. Exercising

Research shows that exercise can help relieve depression (Rethorst, & Trivedi, 2010). We need movement in our lives. Sedentary behavior, sitting for hours at computers, in cars, or on couches, can actually be hazardous to our health (Thorp, Owen, Neuhaus, & Dunstan, 2011). How much do you move each day? Have you become more sedentary during the pandemic? To get back on track, choose an exercise you enjoy. Sign up for a yoga, dance, or aerobics class. Start slowly, then increase your exercise as you build up stamina. As the Tao Te Ching says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (see Dreher, 2000/2022).

3. Connecting with Others

The World Health Organization (2021) reports how loneliness and depression have dramatically increased during the Covid pandemic and research shows that loneliness can undermine our health (Cacioppo, Hawkley, & Thisted, 2010). To flourish, we need a circle of support that includes not only family and friends but what psychologist Barbara Fredrickson (2013) calls “micro-moments of connectivity.” A smile, eye contact, perhaps a kind word with anyone we encounter each day, from our neighbors to the grocery store clerk, benefits both people, relieving stress and promoting greater physical and emotional well-being. What steps can you take to build your own circle of support?

4. Meditating

Research shows how meditation can improve our emotional, mental, and physical well-being, enabling us to live more creatively (Kabat-Zinn, 2003; McCraty & Childre, 2004; Shapiro, 2009). There are many forms of meditation, from mindfulness to visualization, walking meditation, and more. If you haven’t developed your own meditative practice, you can begin by setting aside a few moments at the beginning or end of the day. Close your eyes, breathe slowly and deeply, watching your thoughts flow through your mind without judging them. Feel your body relax and the fast pace of your life slow down as you return to a more centered state. Or try this ten-minute guided mindfulness meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

5. Appreciating Beauty

Appreciation of beauty and excellence is one of the 24 character strengths common to humankind (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Throughout history, people have been inspired by the beauty of music, painting, sculpture, and the performing arts. Research has shown how experiencing beauty can bring us awe, a transcendent sense of connection with a larger reality that increases our well-being (Rudd, Vohs, & Aaker, 2012 ). You can experience this for yourself by listening to your favorite music, visiting an art gallery, or attending a concert, dance, or theater performance.

6. Creating Beauty

Whether it’s painting, dancing, or playing a musical instrument, a creative practice can reawaken the spirit of play we enjoyed as children. It can put us in a flow state where we become one with the process, expanding our awareness and capabilities (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). It can bring us hope, as Winston Churchill found when he painted landscapes during the dark days of World War II. To follow your own creative practice, you can get back in touch with what you loved to do as a child. Take that old guitar out of the closet, sign up for an art or dance class, or make time for a favorite hobby like woodworking, needlework, or gardening.

7. Setting a Meaningful Goal

Goals bring our lives purpose, direction, and meaning. When psychologist Dave Feldman and I led research participants through a 90-minute exercise to write down their goals and visualize steps to achieve them, they experienced significant goal progress and greater hope (Feldman & Dreher, 2012). To try this practice for yourself, write down a goal you want to achieve in the next six months, three steps to achieve it, an obstacle that could occur for each step, and an alternate step to overcome each obstacle. Finally, close your eyes and visualize yourself taking each step, overcoming each obstacle, and achieving your goal. How do you feel? As you open your eyes, keep that vision in mind as you take your first step.

8. Practicing Gratitude

Psychologist Robert Emmons (2007) found that a simple gratitude practice can make a positive difference in our mental health and well-being. To try this powerful practice for yourself, at the end of each day, think of three things you’re grateful for and write them down. Notice how you feel as you reflect on the gifts that each day brings.

Now it’s your turn. Choose three spiritual vitamins to add to your days. Over time, these practices can bring you greater joy and vitality, broadening and building your hope and resilience (Fredrickson, 2001).


This post is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.

© Diane Dreher, Ph.D. All rights reserved.


Berman, M. G., Jonides, J. & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19, 1207-1212.

Berrios, R., Totterdell, P., & Kellett, S. (2018). When feeling mixed can be meaningful: The relation between mixed emotions and eudaimonic well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19, 841-861.

Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L.C., & Thisted, R.A. (2010). Perceived social isolation makes me sad: 5-year cross-lagged analyses of loneliness and depressive symptomatology in the Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study. Psychology and Aging, 25, 453-463.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Dreher, D. (2000/2022). From Lao Tzu, the Tao Te Ching, chapter 64. An earlier version of this passage appeared in Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, available as an ebook and a new audiobook edition, published by Penguin Random House in January 2022.

Emmons, R. A.(2007). Thanks: How practicing gratitude can make you happier. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Feldman, D. B. and Dreher, D. E. (2012). Can hope be changed in 90 minutes? Testing the efficacy of a single-session goal-pursuit intervention for college students. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 745-759

Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

Fredrickson, B. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press.

Howell, A. J., Dopko, R. L., Passmore, H.A., & Buro, K. (2011). Nature connectedness: Associations with well-being and mindfulness. Personality and Individual Differences, 51, 166-171.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 144-156.

Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrated framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169-182.

McCraty, R. & Childre, D. (2004). The grateful heart: The psychophysiology of appreciation. In R.A.Emmons & M.E.McCullough (Eds.). The psychology of gratitude, pp.230-255. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Rethorst, C. D.& Trivedi, M. H. (2010). Evidence-based recommendation for the prescription of exercise for major depressive disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 19, 204-212.

Rudd, M., Vohs, K. D., & Aaker, J. (2012). Awe expands people’s perception of time, alters decision making, and enhances well-being. Psychological Science, 23, 1130-1136.

Ryan, R. M., Weinstein, N., Bernstein, J., Brown, K. W., Mistretta, L., & Gagne, M. (2010). Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 159-168.

Shapiro, S. L., (2009). Meditation and positive psychology. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds. ). Handbook of positive psychology, (pp. 601-610). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Thorp, A. A., Owen, N., Neuhaus, M., & Dunstan, D. W. (2011). Sedentary behaviors and subsequent health outcomes in adults: A systematic review of longitudinal studies, 1996-2011. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 41, 207-215.

World Health Organization (2021). Social isolation and loneliness.

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