June 15, 2020

Joy Competencies (Part 1): How to Make Joy Our Lifeline During Hard Times

Want more joy even during the tough times?

Joy is a powerful virtue that can counter the negative effects of turbulent times, whether uncertainty about the future, or concerns about loved ones’ safety and mental health. Cultivating joy requires focusing on specific competencies to reshape the way we live and even absorb the negative information that saturates the world right now at a micro and macro level. In this first post, I will discuss 3 of 5 joy competencies and how they are essential to helping us thrive through our bodies, creativity, and sense of belonging.

Joy Competency 1: Reconnect with body senses or activate the joy of being alive.

Good health is important and should not be taken life for granted. The human body generally possesses 6 interconnected senses (yes, there are 6): smell, sight, touch, hearing, taste, and proprioception. These senses are more powerful than we realize, and are constantly attuned to the reality around us. It is important to fill one’s living and work spaces with things that engage the senses and create appreciation.

Some ideas to consider:

  • Immerse yourself and your family in your favorite smells by either cooking your favorite dishes together or picking flowers during a walk to adorn and fill your space with delightful aromas. Research indicates that smell is a powerful trigger that can activate a particular memory1. Therefore, by smelling familiar odors, you can reactivate collective memories of meaningful times.
  • Identify sounds that are particularly relaxing or soothing to you and your family. Play songs that bring joy to your household, sit outside for a few minutes to listen to nature, or embrace the sound of laughter and conversation with your family.
  • Enhance your other body senses by engaging in various sensory activities such as taking baths, eating your favorite meals, doing mindfulness exercises, and/or sightseeing during a walk around your neighborhood.

Joy Competency 2: Be creative or activate the joy of doing.

Use creative energy and translate it into intentional activities for renewal and joy. Such activities stimulate and provide a sense of meaningfulness. In order to find your own creative zone, a good strategy is to identify what is important, not just urgent.

Some ideas to consider:

  • Reflect: What have you always wished to try? The answer to this question is related to your creative tendency.
  • An Urgent-Important Matrix is a good tool to sort out the various activities that usually capture our attention and monopolize our energy. Identify and list your various expectations, tasks, and/or priorities. What do you consider important? What do you consider as urgent but not important? Do these urgent things take you away from the important things on your list? Particularly reflect on the elements that you put in the Not Urgent-Important category. These will most likely be the activities that invoke your creative energy.
  • Calculate your availability to engage in creative activities. There are 168 hours in a week. Throughout the week, we typically use 56 hours to sleep, 40 hours to work, and 21 hours to eat. The remaining 51 hours are either filled with transit, workouts, hobbies, and other responsibilities. Try to find 1-3 hours each day to accomplish something creative.

Creativity can take many forms. The key is to engage in an activity that brings you joy and allows you to be innovative in your own specific way. Creativity resets the mind, re-organizes priorities, and/or even helps us discover ways we can help others.

Joy Competency 3: Be relational or activate relational joy.

Relational joy is about connecting with people. There exist many ways we can connect with others. It’s important to engage with others in deeper and more meaningful ways that bring joy.

Relational connection occurs when two or more individuals see, hear, understand, and join each other where they are (if not physically, emotionally)—and, of course, experience joy together. Develop meaningful relationships with the significant people in your life. While technology makes it easy to communicate with anyone, anywhere, relational connections occur when people are intentional and take the time to pause and create a safe space where they can share their deepest thoughts and feelings.

Some ideas to consider:

  • During times of difficulty, certain needs become more apparent, which can often reveal internal issues that have never really been addressed. Write down these needs, frustrations, longings, and whatever is triggered by the difficulty. Then share them with someone you trust.
  • Send letters to those who may be in a vulnerable state or to your loved ones. Direct mail or email are excellent ways to connect with others and can help bring you closer together.
  • Share with others what interests, fascinates, or intrigues you on social media or by creating a YouTube channel. Connect with people who share the same concerns and/or passions.

Activating our body senses with stimuli that enhance our gratitude and appreciation, activating our creative energy, and meaningfully connecting with people we respect and love are powerful competencies that can absorb the negative impact of difficult times. In fact, these competencies help us to nourish our emotional reservoirs and to identify key or life-giving elements that we need to build our life around. Consider (re)structuring your life to find joy and what really matters. In fact, this is what thriving is all about.

Editor’s Note: This blog post is the first of a two-part series. You can find part two HERE

1. Shapiro, L. (Ed.). (2014). The routledge handbook of embodied cognition (1st ed., Ser. Routledge handbooks in philosophy). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group
2. Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: powerful lessons in personal change (Reissue). Simon & Schuster.
Frederic Defoy PhD student in the Psychological Science program at Fuller Theological Seminary. He served as a Thrive Scholars Fellow from 2018-2020


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