How to Create Joy Every Single Day

Simple ways to turn back to your inner light

Woman with joy walks on beach
Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

Feeling joy in life doesn’t always come easily to me. This fact was made poignantly clear at a wellness fair last winter when I took an emotional health assessment via this weird handheld device. Supposedly through signals in my body the device was able to detect that out of all emotional indicators, my levels of joy were severely lacking. And while this technology may sound kind of “woo woo” (and it does to me, if I’m honest) the results struck me…because they felt true.

“You must be going through a hard time, huh?” the assessment’s facilitator said to me, sympathy in her eyes.

I guess I was?

Now that I thought about it, I guess I had been living a pretty joyless existence in spite of everything I stood for. How had I not realized it? As a yoga instructor and wellness advocate, I thought I had this whole “happy life” thing figured out. But my joylessness was now staring me in the face and I couldn’t help but wonder, where had I gone wrong?

And, how could I get my joy back?

In taking a step back, I could partially attribute the results to external circumstances of my life at the time: exhaustion from overwork, relationship baggage, and of course the usual mid-twenties’ bouts of existential dread — nothing anyone my age hasn’t experienced to some degree. But really it goes beyond that.

Genetics play a role, I’m certain. In fact, researchers have found that 40 percent of our happiness can be attributed to genetics alone. When I think of my parents…let’s just say this adds up. (Note: I’ll save the discussion on the difference between joy and happiness for a different article. For the purposes of this one, let’s simply recognize the two are interrelated aspects of overall life satisfaction and contentment.)

But more important than genetics, it seems, was my approach to life — and my approach to myself. I was always feeling the need to say yes. Always filling up my schedule. Not taking time to rest. Not feeling worthy of rest, even. Not feeling like I was enough and therefore not deserving of enjoyment. Not creating time to connect to my purpose. Not allowing myself to live slow enough to access the abundance of joy that exists in us all if we only learn to tap into it.

That’s the thing I’m learning about joy. It isn’t fleeting and it isn’t externally based. Rather, it’s an omnipresent, inherent gift we humans have been born with that we can bring forth with intention, regardless of external circumstances, if we allow ourselves.

In short, it’s a practice.

Similarly to the practice of gratitude or that of mindfulness, joy is something we can cultivate in our lives through intention, and through activities and rituals.

So that’s what I’ve spent much of the past year doing. Thanks to the pandemic’s gift of loads of free time, I had the opportunity to really slow down and examine my life and the ways in which I can access joy on a day-to-day basis. And I wrote these down on paper so on days that feel particularly difficult or merely lackluster, I can turn to them.

I’ve decided to call this list my Joy Toolkit, and I’m hoping after reading this you can create one too for when you forget your joy. Because, like me, some days you will.

Joy Toolkit activities should:

  1. Be inexpensive. We’re not talking about the kind of joy we get from exotic vacations or a lavish spa day (though if you can/want to do those things, have at it).
  2. Be easily accessible. These are items or activities you can have at the ready whenever you need them. You may have to take time to get said items/activities into place; think buying a yoga mat for your movement practice, having candles or incense at the ready, or creating a “Joy Playlist.” The point is, you shouldn’t have to go too far to employ the items in your toolkit when you need them.
  3. Fit into your daily schedule. Again, we’re not talking weekends away to your favorite vacation spot or spending loads of money on a nice dinner. Of course those can bring you joy, but we’re focusing on the day-to-day kinds of activities that you can have right now, at any time, whenever you feel like you’re hitting an emotional wall. Especially during the pandemic, the more easily accessible, the better.

So what’s in my Joy Toolkit? Well, here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Dance alone. I turn on my favorite tunes and I get moving. Most of the time, I also sing. This one really is such a quick fix, I can’t recommend it enough. It used to feel silly, but maybe with age (or wisdom) you get over that.
  • Play with my kitten, Tulip. What a joy to have a pet! Sometimes I forget to just watch her and be present with this adorable little creature I get to care for.
  • Meditate. Often what I truly need is quiet, pure and simple. And in that quiet, there is space for joy’s presence to arise effortlessly.
  • Make my favorite warm beverage and then I really appreciate that beverage.
  • Turn on some comedy. I put on my favorite comedy podcast, look at some silly memes, or turn on a stand-up special. Laughter is so healing, so uplifting. I think it’s gotten me through some of the toughest pandemic days.
  • Call a friend. Especially a friend I have an uncomplicated relationship with.
  • Go for a walk. A walk can really give me some perspective, especially when in nature. My life feels smaller in the best way. (Plus, the exercise helps.)
  • Connect with my body. I take a bath. I practice yoga. I do my nails. I shave and I put lotion all over my body. These are things that make me feel good, that make me more able to smile toward myself.
  • Waste time. Most items on this list are action-oriented. But occasionally you might just need to let go of doing and allow yourself to just be. Whatever this means. I allow myself to release all need to be productive for a while. Just do whatever in that moment feels good. No goals. No productivity. No self-growth. Just…being.
  • Light some candles or anything else that smells good. Incense. Sage.
  • Create. For me, these days it looks like poetry or writing. Sometimes it looks like cooking. Whatever the means, letting your creative expression flow is a wonderful way to turn back toward your inner light, the dancing inside of you, where joy can be found.

Of course, remembering to turn to this list when I need it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I wallow. Sometimes I fall into a spiral of negative thoughts and I get stuck. Sometimes I forget to create space for joy. But I find having a written set of practices can really help. Like I said, it’s a practice, not a perfection, and it can look different every day.

So tell me, what are you putting on your list? What are your little joys?

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Yogi, meditator, student. I believe in compassion.

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Grace Herbener

Grace Herbener

Yogi, meditator, student. I believe in compassion.

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