The Six Types of Joy

The Six Types of Joy

Scientists generally define joy as a positive emotion where you feel feelings of freedom, safety, and ease, that generally arises in response to something good happening in your life or in the world.

All that is true — but that definition is certainly lacking in the poetry that a writer would use to describe how it feels to experience joy. Like Emily Dickinson, who said “Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.” Or the poet Rumi, who wrote that “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” Or author Iris Murdoch, who said “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”

Joy is such a wonderful emotion. But we don’t learn how to create it in school or in most of our families — leaving us with a joy deficit in our society today.

My own personal definition of joy is that it results from connection. We feel joy when we are truly connected to ourselves, with the people in our lives, with the world around us, with nature, and with the present moment.

The benefits of joy are extraordinary — not just for yourself, but for those around you, too.

When you feel joyful, you experience changes in your body — colors seem brighter, your physical movements feel freer and easier, smiling happens naturally. Your brain changes, too. Research has found that your thinking and attention naturally broaden when you feel joy and other positive emotions, making you a better creative problem solver, more resourceful, and in the long-term, more resilient.

Joy connects us to other people more powerfully than any other experience: watching your sports team win, celebrating a happy life event, singing a hymn in a church, or solving a really hard challenge are all moments of profound connection that can result in joy. And when we feel joy, we are inspired to do good for others — as an emotion, it bonds us to one another and helps us to put aside our differences in order to work towards the common good.

Because joy is a relatively fuzzy concept within psychology (unlike something like goal setting or habits), it can be hard to pinpoint how to get more of it; we tend to view it as something that ‘happens to us’ rather than something we can more consciously invite into our lives and even create. In order to help address that, I’ve identified six different paths to joy. By naming them, we can start to notice and expand their presence in our lives.

The six paths to joy are:

Here are three ways to welcome these different types of joy into your life.

As you go through a typical day over the next 24 hours, notice moments of joy. If you can, jot them down. Don’t do anything differently, but just keep an eye out for these little moments.

Near the end of the day, look at your list and see if there are any particular patterns that jump out. Maybe your moments of joy are with particular people, in specific places, or doing certain things. What path of joy shows up most for you (and what path shows up the least?)

Especially in the middle of the pandemic, day-to-day life can feel pretty blah. Identify an ordinary moment in your day (like making a meal or a meeting) or a pre-existing routine (like a workout or an afternoon walk) and try to make it joyful. Look at the six different paths to joy and consider how you might integrate it into your day to make the ordinary a little bit extraordinary.

One of the greatest killjoys is the sense of busyness and stress that pervades our modern world. In order to create space for joy, we need to turn the volume down on that noise and create a sense of safety, peace, and calm. We call this a ‘joy space’: a pocket of calm in your day that allows you to feel more joy.

You can create your joy space in two ways.

The first way is to consciously slow yourself down. Whenever you catch yourself rushing, just gently slow down. Ask yourself, “Where am I hurrying to?” You might discover that you are hurrying to the next task, and the next task, and the next task, in order to finish the day. Moving slower can help you to enjoy the journey.

The second way is to create a sense of ease or playfulness in your day. There are a number of ways you can do this. A few of our favorite ideas include: put on your favorite song and dance, do something just because you want to, say no to an obligation you’re not excited about, do something totally out of the ordinary like having a bubble bath during the day, play a game with your family, take a totally different route on your daily walk, or sit there and daydream.

Try these tips to help you take charge of the amount of joy in your life. Because joy is so important: it is one of the things that make life worth living. It keeps us going in hard times; it binds us to other people; it arises when we are being our very best selves. The more joy we can bring into our world, the better it will be.

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