Happiness, Joy, and Meaning in Difficult Times

Happiness, Joy, and Meaning are related, but ultimately separate, concepts.

  • Happiness: to the pleasurable feelings that result from a situation, experience, or objects
  • Joy: a state of mind that can be found even in times of grief or uncertainty.
  • Meaning: Taking the opportunity to define our own purpose, and taking responsibility for ourselves and other human beings

Recently, Harvard physician Stephanie Collier, MD, MPH wrote a piece describing how one can find joy, or at least peace, during difficult times.

Dr. Collier hilights the distinction amongst joy, happiness, and meaning in that “We can work on cultivating joy independent of our circumstances. Winning the lottery may trigger (short-term) happiness; spending time engaging in meaningful activities may result in long-term joy.” This, then, gives us guidance on how to navigate times of tumult. She ultimately highlights that doing the work of finding joy can lead to a stronger immune system and decrease stress hormones, improve pain, and relieve depression, all helping us to live longer. Check our her tips for finding joy below, or read the full article at Harvard Health.

  • Perform regular aerobic physical activity. Think of physical activity as releasing a bubble bath of neurotransmitters — and their effects linger long after the exercise is over.
  • Dedicate yourself to others. Activities such as volunteering produce greater joy than focusing on oneself.
  • Connect with your spiritual side. When we join with something larger than ourselves, we develop feelings of gratitude, compassion, and peace. Meditation is a powerful way to modify brain pathways to increase joy.
  • Discover something new. As humans, we are hard-wired to experience joy when experiencing novelty. Developing a new pursuit can help us refocus our energy.
  • Give yourself permission to take a few moments of pleasure, especially when you are feeling low. You can try NPR’s Joy Generator for a taste.
  • Pay attention to the good. A joyous mindset can be developed, but takes practice. The three good things exercise helps you keep an eye out for the positives during the day.
  • Conversely, limit negativity. Whether it’s gossipy coworkers, a toxic relationship with a family member, or a complaining friend, spending time around a negative mindset influences us directly. It’s okay to set limits.
  • Focus your efforts on what brings meaning to your life (and don’t focus on money).
  • Ask your doctor about whether your medications can affect your ability to experience pleasure, especially if you are taking antidepressants.