• drleoniewhite

What Brings You Joy?

Updated: Sep 16, 2021


Actually, what even is joy?


Joy is an emotion of great delight, pleasure or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying, or something greatly valued. This means that what brings each of us each joy will vary because we each value different things and find happiness in different situations, places, relationships, activities, and things.


Flowers bring me joy.


Every day I walk past a little patch of violas on the way to my office and I find myself smiling automatically, and with the smile comes a feeling a joy and a feeling of ‘settledness’…well that’s what I call it.


Did you know that sometimes you need to search for joy? And that it’s easy to forget to look and to notice, especially when times have been tough. It’s kind of like looking through a window that’s become fogged up with all the difficult things that have happened, and you have to consciously clear a spot to be able to see through and notice the ‘highlights’ …the things that bring feelings of joy even in the midst of hardship. Maybe it’s seeing the flowers on the sidewalk, playing with your pet, noticing your child’s laugh, a hug, a really good cup of coffee…or tea, watching the birds fly around in the park, writing with your favourite pen, or watching the sun set.


I think there might be a myth that only big things, like a trip to a theme park, can bring joy. There is joy to be found in little things and little moments if only we can notice.


I don’t know what a highlight is for you, what would bring you joy…but I challenge you to go on a ‘joy hunt’. Clear a bit of the fog off if there’s fog on your mind’s window to the world and start looking.


And if you want to take it a step further to really embed the moment of joy in your memory and life here’s some tips:


Set an intention in the morning to notice small joyful things. Intention setting is the way you prime your brain to pay attention to certain things. There’s a part of the brain whose job it is to filter what we pay attention to. Because there is always so much going on in the environment around us and in our internal world, we can’t pay attention to everything. Intention setting is a powerful way to start to tune your brain to what you’d like to pay attention to.


Stop and pay attention with all your senses for 20 seconds. That’s as long as it takes for 3 deep breaths. While you are taking the 3 deep breaths activate your senses. Really look at what it is, notice the smell and what you can hear, and how it feels…and if it’s appropriate how it tastes.


Take a photo and create an album of photos on your phone that bring you joy. This is kind of like creating a playlist on Spotify, but this is a visual list. Go back to this photo album whenever you need to and keep adding to it over time.


Practice gratitude. Yes, that’s right practice gratitude. Gratitude is a practice, not an attitude. This means gratitude is a conscious choice, and an intentional practice. The research is clear that it’s not joyful people who feel gratitude…but grateful people who feel joy. Start a gratitude practice if you don’t already have one like journaling, even noting down 3 things each day you are grateful for.


Use mindfulness to stay present in the joyful moment. Brene Browns talks about foreboding joy – this is something that gets in the way of leaning into joy, like when anxiety and irrational fears might take over to sabotage the joyful moment e.g., worrying the plane is going to crash on your way to your first beach holiday in years because it couldn’t possibly work out that you could get to have a lovely holiday….. Or thinking that the bugs are just going to ruin the rose bush before you can cut the flowers for a vase…..

Mindfulness teaches us to stay in the present moment and is a great antidote to worry, stress and anxiety. That’s because these feelings invite us into the future (e.g., what might go wrong), and the past (e.g., what we regret having done), and so an active focus on the here and now reduces the power of worry, stress, anxiety, and foreboding joy.


Pass joyful living on to your children. Point out to your children the things you notice that bring you joy. Share a laugh over the crazy way that duck just ran across the street (yes that happened this morning). Take a moment to stop and look at the flowers and even go over and smell them together. If your child notices a cool looking bug in the garden go over and show your interest in the bug, or share a moment as they jump in a puddle (without foreboding joy of worrying about the stained clothes…a work in progress I know) – this is reinforcing their ability to notice and engage with things they like, appreciate, and that bring them joy. Ask your child what they noticed today that made them smile. And bring the practice of gratitude into the family e.g., take turns at dinner to each say something you are appreciated that day, or make this type of sharing a bedtime ritual.



Will you take up the challenge of a ‘joy hunt’ by yourself or as a family?


Dr Leonie White - Clinical Family Therapist and Psychologist

Helping people grow, connect and thrive in life’s unique journey.




Photo Attributions:

Woman in flowers - Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

Child in puddle - Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash



Please note - this article is educational in nature and does not constitute therapy advice.

Please seek help from a professional if you require support.

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