By Mary Reitano

“The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter and the spirit heals with joy.” (Proverb)

For many of us, summer vacations are a source of moments of joy. Whether appreciating a beautiful landscape, playing with the kids or grandkids, or laughing with friends, joy bubbles up frequently and easily. But, at other times, joy seems elusive. We seek for it without success.

So, how do we create moments of joy to increase this positive emotion in our lives, especially in difficult times? It may vary from person to person, but here are some ideas. Find joy in the ordinary. Joy does not always come in the dramatic moments, but more often in the small and simple events. Find out what gives you joy and do it. Each of us are wired differently. For some, a special hobby like music or woodworking brings joy. For others, spending time with people brings joy. For most people, practicing gratitude, taking time to appreciate the good things in your life increases joy. And, joy is contagious. A joy that is shared is a joy made double. Spend time with joyous people. But also serve others less fortunate than you. Often in giving to others, we experience joy. And spiritual experiences may lift you up above your circumstances, bring perspective, hope and joy, even in difficult times.

Joy is different from happiness or pleasure. George Vaillant, a Harvard University psychiatrist, studied human happiness for decades. He wrote that joy is on everyone’s list of positive emotions, but the least studied. He mentions psychologist Sylvan Tomkins’ work, who connects joy to suffering removed, being freed from captivity, and regaining what was thought lost. Sometimes, joy erupts upon realization of a dream–college graduation, marriage, completing a novel or winning the World Series, like the Chicago Cubs did last year after waiting so many years! Other times joy bubbles up from spontaneous moments like a beautiful sunset. And positive emotions like joy can co-exist with negative emotions. On any given day, we could have sadness over the illness of a friend, and joy over the hearing of the birth of a baby.

But, be on guard for things that steal joy. Teddy Roosevelt said “comparison is the thief of joy.” We may have been thrilled to buy a new car, but allow our joy to be stolen when a neighbor buys a fancier one. Focus on and enjoy the present moment.   Dwelling on past regrets or future worries can distract from current joy. And happiness generally depends on circumstances. But joy often exists in spite of circumstances. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: “Find out where joy resides and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all.”

Mary Reitano is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate focusing on positive psychology and a holistic approach that addresses emotional, relational, mental, physical and spiritual health.