Finding Joy During Difficult Times

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Now more than ever, finding joy in our daily experiences may improve our quality of life and may maintain and enhance one's mental health. As many people are mired in intense information from news and social media about the pandemic, long-term consequences of contracting COVID-19, shelter-in-place orders, and political and civil unrest globally, it becomes difficult to find peace both internally and externally. Furthermore, many adults are working from home and taking on new responsibilities for their child(ren)’s academic needs, which adds a newfound ever present stress in the home. How can we individually and as a collective, "spark joy" to lift the spirits of ourselves, and one another to get through this global shift and crisis?

Here are some ideas to give you a pick me up:

1. Listen to your favorite music. It will help recall positive memories, rather than being entrenched in the day-to-day difficulties you may be facing currently. Recalling these memories by listening to music is an easy and passive way to feel great while you are working, cleaning, or hanging out on your balcony. Research has shown that listening to your favorite jams can reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure, improve sleep quality and enhance mood, too.

2. Develop a daily gratitude practice. It doesn't have to be a big ordeal; just thinking of 1 to 3 statements a day such as, “I am grateful I have a roof over my head;” “I am grateful for the sun that rises each morning that I feel on my skin;” “I am grateful for the delicious strawberries I had today.” At the end of the day, write down or say aloud, the 1 to 3 things you were grateful for, as simple as they may be. By doing this, even during times of difficulty or distress, gratitude practice helps to place life’s circumstances into perspective and indirectly creates joy and provides groundedness during rough times.

3. Spend time in a vision practice. Close your eyes and focus on your very favorite place, person, mantra/prayer, or even vacation. Breathe into the moment and envision yourself in this space, language, or with this person. Try to spend a dedicated 5 minutes soaking in the moment and with the breath. Slow down the breathing and relax your body. Some people find that this practice is enhanced by laying down with bolsters under the legs and placing a weighted blanket on top of the body or by sitting in a chair with a cushion behind the back and/or under the feet. Consider the colors, tastes, textures, and conversations. By doing this, you will be reminded that the current pandemic is temporary (aspects of it such as isolation, sadness, desperation). That you will again have more positive experiences and still can create new ones, that may actually result during these short meditations.

4. Find the “awe” moment one time daily. “Awe” is the concept of experiencing wonder and amazement. Awe frequently conjures up the idea of something “big” like snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef or seeing the Eiffel Tower in Paris. However, researchers are finding that if we take the time to notice small, pleasurable moments every day, we can reap the benefits of larger “awe” moments just as much. We realize we are part of the world at large and can make meaning of our life (and hence experience more joy in the day to day). Awe moments can be found in seeing the sun rise, for example; or watching ants march. We can also experience “awe” by reading beautiful poetry or hiking on a new path and seeing interesting rocks or flowers. Take the time to notice things around you that you may have taken for granted and relish them and their place in the world (and yours).

Here are some ideas that may help others experience joy; and in turn you likely will reap the benefits of another’s inherent joy, too (e.g., the shared collective experience):

1. Write letters/poems/drawings to first responders, essential workers, or elderly persons who are sheltered in-place. By engaging in this activity, you will bring a sense of comfort and joy to others, and you will also feel fulfilled for passing on happiness to others. Additionally, this activity will help shift your attention and get your mind off the day to day heaviness that you may be feeling.

2. Start to collect coins and place it in a jar with the intention of donating it to a charity of your choice. At the end of a designated period of time (one to three months), write a letter to this charity letting them know what you did, why, and the meaning behind the donation. Saving the money and seeing the fruits of your labor will spark joy that you were able to meet a goal. Additionally, by writing a letter you will be able to put your thoughts into writing and express your intentions of goodwill to another. Oftentimes when we can voice our positivity instead of keeping it inside, we can further feel joy throughout our soul.

3. Run an errand for a friend, or order for food for them. This serves as a big stress reducer for someone, which is a big relief right now. They will be so thankful and with their gratitude you will both experience joy.

As you can see, experiencing joy, even in light of all the difficulties we are facing, can be achieved with ease by modifying our daily activities.

“Let your joy be in your journey—not in some distant goal.” —Tim Cook

-Stephanie Mihalas, PhD NCSP ABPP, is a licensed and board certified psychologist, as well as a nationally certified school psychologist. She is the founder of The Center for Well Being in Los Angeles, CA. Dr. Mihalas provides psychotherapeutic services to children, teens, adults, and families; as well as parent, executive, organizational, and chronic wellness coaching. Her specialty areas include: bullying, trauma, anxiety, chronic illness/rare disease, intergenerational issues, and working with marginalized populations.

She can be found at:

Twitter: @askdrstephanie

Instagram: @thecenterforwellbeingla

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