How to have more joy in your life

woman jumping for joy outside with bicycle

By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD

Did you forget how to feel joyous? Has it been forever and a day since you felt lighthearted or gleeful about — anything? I get it — we’re all doing our best just to keep going every day and meet our obligations without constantly feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

Believe me, joy is just waiting for you to discover it every day, and I’m going to show you how to find it, with a little help from my friend, sex-educator Barbara Carrellas.

Choosing joy

Barbara and I both agree that you can cultivate joy but we also believe that feeling joyful is a choice. Opportunities for joy present themselves to us all the time, but it’s easy to overlook them.

How you react and respond to everyday events determines whether you will make space for joy in your life. If you think that “the grass is always greener on the other side,” an honest reevaluation of your own circumstances might help you realize that the grass is thick and green and lush right where you’re standing.

To choose and cultivate joy, you have to really know yourself. You have to be authentic and be able to face and accept your feelings. You have to accept where and who you are. You can’t just pretend to be happy. But when you’re willing to face negative feelings and work through them, you open the path to joy.

It’s hard to face the truth and sometimes we all struggle with it. But Barbara works closely with people, teaching them how to cultivate the ecstatic experience and encouraging them to feel and express the full range of their emotions.

She advises you to embrace your feelings — all of them, good and bad — with totality. Sure, facing stuff is hard but both joy and ecstasy require us to let go of self-imposed limitations that keep us from moving forward in life.

closeup of mother and daughter laughing together

First joy, then ecstasy

Barbara reminds everyone that we shouldn’t just aim for joy but instead reach for ecstasy as often as possible. She used social media to ask people about any non-sexual experiences that had made them feel intense joy or bliss. Hundreds of people responded, sharing a huge range of experiences with art, music, food, nature, political activism, childbirth, amusement parks and more.

The variety made it clear that joy is individual to each of us. Knowing yourself — maybe just remembering an earlier time when you felt joyous — is critically important. Once you know what brings you joy, it becomes a matter of immersing yourself in those experiences.

Feeling that intense burst of joy — ecstasy — is necessary for happiness. And it can inspire the direction you follow in life. Barbara’s lifework guiding people toward ecstatic experiences has proven that they give people hope and keep them going. Experiencing ecstasy may even alter the course of our lives.

Barbara and I both believe that we all get far more opportunities to experience ecstasy than we may be aware of. So maybe you should start looking a little more closely.

happy couple blowing bubbles

Build the foundation for true happiness

With my patients, family and friends, I always stress the tight link between happiness and good health. We can’t even differentiate the two because they are eternally married. Research reveals that people who feel happier have stronger immune systems, and better cardiovascular and respiratory health, than people who are chronically unhappy.

If you think you’re a “negative” person or that it’s simply not in your nature to be happy, think about this advice from Barbara: take “personal responsibility” for your happiness. You can’t wait for happiness to fall into your lap. Circumstances aren’t preventing you from being happy. It’s a moment-by-moment choice and Barbara and I want you to go for it!

Open the door to more joy

Barbara and I both encourage you to explore meditation if you are struggling to figure out what brings you true happiness. When you can turn your search over to the universe, and tune into your deepest intuition, you will be more open to the answers you receive. The meditation process is an exercise in letting go. It can help you stop overthinking and worrying.

Get started on being happier with these little tips for finding more joy:

  • Think about what you can do instead of being stuck on what you can’t.
  • Dream of the things you would like to do for yourself that would invite joy. Maybe you want to start cooking healthy and delicious meals. Or start an exercise regimen.
  • Pick one thing to focus on, and then structure a step-by-step plan to slowly integrate change into your life. As you progress, each particle of accomplishment will keep you moving forward to the next one.

Look for something during the day to smile about for a few seconds — or more if you can. Smiling evokes a physiological change in your body that allows you to become receptive to positive feelings.

And don’t limit yourself to only feeling joy about your own life. Open a space in your heart to feel joy for others, or “mudita” in Sanskrit. To be in this state, you must be present for and open to the energies of others.

The ultimate mudita experience is to feel joy for the people who aggravate us the most, another worthwhile exercise in letting go.

Our joys? Simple, sublime and even silent

Barbara feels joy when she pushes herself to attend workshops or retreats that initially seem scary to her. Even though they make her nervous, the events she ends up choosing appeal to her on a deep, intimate level. By pushing her boundaries, she unleashes the joy within her that’s waiting to be expressed.

Personally, I am joyous when I can have a nice soak in my hot tub. I like watching the weather and the skies change. But lately, I also feel joy from being silent and turning inward. Just being present is a powerfully joyful experience.

When you are truly living in the moment, without being weighed down by negative expectations, you carve out space for joy to appear. When you look for joy — you will find it.

Watch more about what Barbara and I have to say about joy

Last updated on 02/28/2019