December 16, 2019

Helping Youth Rediscover Joy (Part 2): Vocation and Spirituality

Joy serves a guide to what matters most to us. Discover how joy can be nurtured spiritually and vocationally in youth.

Photo by: Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash

In a previous post, I introduced the first three activators that can nurture joy in youth. Joy is a powerful virtue that can help teens regulate emotions and cope with day-to-day pressures, such as reconnecting them to their body sense.

Reconnecting them to their body senses and relationships are just a few ways parents can nurture joy in youth. This next post will focus on the last two joy activators.

4. Explore teens’ vocational dreams

As adolescents undergo cognitive growth, they begin to perceive the world through a more global, diverse perspective. One of three typical behaviors may arise from teens’ cognitive development. They can become passionate and give 100% to serving prominent causes, withdraw themselves from facing the reality of global challenges and suffering, or become anxious from not knowing how to contribute to society.

In this context, this joy activator can be a breath of fresh air. Vocation allows youth to understand how they can be part of the solution. According to psychologists Bryan Dik and Ryan Duffy, the terms calling and vocation are related to a sense of purpose or direction.[1] In psychology, purpose refers to something that is both meaningful to the self and to the world (beyond the self).[2] Consider:

  • Oftentimes, teens immerse themselves in activities and interests that they feel most gifted in, such as a sport or art. They do this as a way to find purpose. Allow them to explore and express their unique passions and talents. Don’t be afraid of what this may mean for their future. When youth feel your unconditional support and pride, they are able to build a sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem that are crucial for adulthood. 
  • Expose your teens to meta-narratives with overarching stories that exist to make sense of the world. This requires becoming aware of the current causes and challenges that most resonate with your teen. For example, Christmas explores the Christian meta-narrative of Jesus’ birth with joy at its core. As reflected by the angel’s declaration:

“Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Luke 2:10-11 (New International Version)

  • Dr. Dik and Dr. Duffy differentiate between the definitions of calling and vocation. Calling refers to a meaningful prompting that comes from an external source. Vocation, on the other hand, represents an inner pull in a specific direction. Help your teens discover both dimensions. What deeply attracts them internally and externally to their purpose?

This joy activator will allow your teens to have a clear understanding of their role in a larger story based on their gifts and talents. Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg who are inspiring examples of teens who led movements because they embraced a meaningful purpose from a place of radical honesty and vulnerability. When youth internally and externally connect to their ultimate purpose, they are able to experience joy.

5. Enhance spiritual joy in youth

Spirituality has been defined as a personal quest for meaning, satisfaction, and wisdom,[3] and search for the sacred.[4] Adolescence can be an emotionally and psychologically draining stage of life. Spirituality can be a grounding element in teens’ lives that keeps them centered and satisfied. Therefore, it is important to help teens discover spiritual resources. Consider:

  • Encourage your youth to explore timeless spiritual practices such as meditation of sacred texts or prayer. Christmas is a great opportunity to pursue these spiritual practices, particularly those related to Advent. For instance, help your teen discover the meaning of the coming of Christ, serving the community, or sharing hope and gratitude in all situations. 
  • Invite teens to read classics that have been recognized as sources of spirituality and wisdom. Novels such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and, of course, sacred texts like the Bible are excellent ways for them to familiarize themselves with collective wisdom.
  • Spiritual joy is often related to powerful concepts such as vulnerability, simplicity, beauty, justice, truth, forgiveness, and love. This Christmas season, discuss and meditate on themes that are particularly meaningful for your teens, and include them in your Christmas celebration with your family. As a parent, be open to sharing your most precious and uplifting spiritual resources with your teens in order to kindle joy in them.


These five joy activators are practical ways to nurture long-lasting joy in youth. Practicing joy “rituals” on a regular basis can significantly help them find and accept joy in their lives. As teens cultivate joy, the cascade of positive effects mentioned above will surely lead to a powerful joyride that will propel them to what really matters, both for them and the world around them.

Author’s note

This blog post is the second of a two-part series. Read part one here.


[1] Dik & Duffy, 2009

[2] Damon, Menon, & Bronk, 2003

[3] King, Carr, & Boitor, 2011

[4] Sandage, Jankowski, & Link, 2010

Frederic Defoy


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