Word-Of-the-Week #963: Joy

January 19, 2023 by  

Joya deep feeling of happiness or contentment.

Do you know that feeling joy is strongly associated with subjective well-being, which is essential for human flourishing? When was the last time you felt connected, or reunited with something or someone that’s really important to you?

This week features the first half of Washington Post writer Richard Sima, Want to feel happier? Try snacking on joy. Learning to find the joy in mundane experiences is a way to cultivate a more meaningful life.

“Here’s an antidote to an ever-stressful, busy and uncertain world. Try finding and savoring little bites of joy in your day. I call them “joy” snacks. 

By mindfully tuning into the pleasant, nice and sometimes routine experiences of every day, we can transform an otherwise mundane moment into something more meaningful and even joyful. 

Lunch with a co-worker. Walking the dog. Texting with a friend. Watching a favorite show. Eating a favorite meal. Calling your mom. Just hanging out. 

New research shows that finding and savoring these nuggets of joy can be a way of consistently cultivating a good, meaningful life. 

“It’s not these big things that we sort of create in our heads, but these smaller day-to-day experiences that bring us meaning,” said Joshua Hicks, psychologist at Texas A&M University’s Existential Psychology Collaboratory. 

  • Understanding the science of joy 

Surprisingly, joy has been relatively neglected by scholars. 

But recent research suggests that joy is a distinct positive emotion for “when we feel connected, or reunited with something or someone that’s really important to us,” said Philip Watkins, psychologist who studies joy, gratitude and happiness at Eastern Washington University. 

Watkins’s research, perhaps unsurprisingly, finds that feeling joy is strongly associated with subjective well-being, which is essential for human flourishing. 

Big events like weddings or reunions are well-known smorgasbords for joy. But smaller bites of joy in everyday life matter, too, and are easier to attain if we don’t overlook them. 

Previous research has shown we derive meaning in life from three key factors — feeling like our life makes sense, having a purpose driven by goals we care about and feeling like our lives matter. 

A February study published in Nature Human Behavior involving more than 3,000 participants across multiple experiments reported that valuing one’s life experiences, or experiential appreciation, is another potent way of making life feel more meaningful.

When asked by researchers to recount their most meaningful experience that occurred in the past week, for most people, it was not about their grand, overarching goals, but something simpler and more mundane that stood out, such as having an enjoyable conversation or being surrounded by nature. 

“It’s not just about you creating meaning in your head,” said Hicks, who co-wrote the study. “It’s about detecting meaning that’s already out there.” 

Snacking on joy can go beyond focusing on our own experiences. Sharing our joy snacks also helps foster even stronger bonds with those we care about most. Relationship research has found that couples who celebrate small things regularly — not just the anniversaries — had stronger and happier partnerships. 

There is also joy to be had when you take the time to reconnect with the person that is always with you: yourself. 

This week’s focus is on feeling joy. Do you feel that your life makes sense and that it matters? Does your life feel purpose driven by goals you care about? Have you taken time to reconnect with yourself? How would it feel to find and savor little bites of joy in your day?

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