Nurturing Joy in Youth During the Holidays, Pt. 1

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

Adolescence is characterized by unprecedented cognitive, hormonal, and relational changes that often result in youth being unable to effectively balance their emotional and physical well-being1. Because teens begin to experience life in a radically different way, this makes emotional regulation challenging for both teens and parents.

In this context, joy is an excellent emotional regulator that becomes a crucial ally for helping teens to handle pressures well, decrease hypersensitivity and hypervigilance, and re-center the body and mind. Contrary to popular beliefs, joy is not just a fleeting, rare, or unpredictable emotion reserved to the lucky few. Joy can be cultivated and nurtured in anyone, often indirectly. Indeed, joy is not an end in itself, but an outcome of the alignment of meaningful factors in our lives. As such, joy points to what really matters and satisfies us.

Throughout this two-part series, I will discuss five joy activators and the potential each has in nurturing joy in youth. This first post will focus on the first three joy activators. My goal is to help you determine the joy activators that can lead to what Richard Boyatzis calls a positive emotional attractor (PEA)2, which refers to a positive psycho-physiological state that creates a cascade of positive effects on people’s bodies and minds. These joy activators will help teens reap the benefits of joy more easily in their lives.

The holiday season is a perfect time for youth to experience new things because the rhythm is different from their regular schedule. Because holidays can decrease the day-to-day pressures and create space for youth to re-center, the following joy activators will pave the way for youth to rediscover joy.

Joy Activator 1: Reconnecting youth with their body senses.

Meaningful Perspective: Rediscovering the joy of being alive.

The hormonal changes that teens face can alter their perceptions and bodily experiences. New sensations can feel overwhelming and different from what they are generally used to feeling, which may cause them to ignore their body senses. The goal of this joy activator is to kindle youths’ body senses in a way that positively captivates their sense of smell, sight, touch, hearing, and taste. Doing so will help them remember the joy of simply being alive.

Some ideas to consider:

  • Immerse teens with their favorite smells by either cooking their favorite dish with them to fill the room with delightful odors or going to the mall to pick their favorite perfume. Explore places where familiar smells are powerful enough to activate joy in them.
  • Identify sounds that are particularly relaxing or soothing to your youth. Whether listening to nature during a hike or music at a coffee shop, these sounds should be positively stimulating or soothing for teens.
  • Enhance your teen’s senses by engaging them often in various sensory activities.

Whether you combine activities or stick to one that is particularly effective in your teens, the idea is to enhance a meaningful sensory experience in them.

Joy Activator 2: Allowing youth to move their bodies in meaningful ways.

Meaningful Perspective: Delighting in the joy of doing (creativity).

Adolescence is a period when teens’ perceptions of themselves in the world are radically changing. This is especially true with both the vestibular system (the perception of one’s body in relation to gravity, movement, and balance) and proprioception (one’s sense of the relative position and strength of the body). Re-familiarizing themselves with their strengths and body movements will reactivate a joy of doing in them that was particularly dominant during their elementary school years, especially if coupled with creativity.

Some ideas to consider:

  • Find projects or activities that help teens channel their creative skills. Ideas can be found here.
  • Play sports or other physical games to enhance recreation and movement in teens. View some ideas here.

Note: competition, making comparisons, and teasing teens on their competencies will cause youth to stop experiencing joy. The goal of this second joy activator is to help them gain the freedom and confidence to move and create things with their bodies.

Joy Activator 3: Having micro-moments of positive resonance with youth.

Meaningful Perspective: Experiencing relational joy through connectedness.

It’s no secret that it becomes challenging for parents to emotionally connect with their teens. Tensions build up at home more often, and peer pressure adds new layers of complexity when parents and their teens attempt to communicate. While sometimes difficult to do well, connecting with youth meaningfully is not only essential but greatly needed. This third joy activator is meant to satisfy this need through what psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson calls positivity resonance3, or the positive emotions we experience when in sync with another person. Being in sync with your teens requires offering them attunement, which has five conditions: feeling seen, heard, understood, joined in one’s present situation, and gladness being together. When teens leave the conversation feeling these five conditions, you have achieved attunement.

Some ideas to consider:

  • Teens often alternate between times of intense isolation and the need to verbally process what they perceive to be critical situations. Connect with them by making non-judgmental eye contact, being genuinely interested in what they are saying with their words and body language, mirroring back their emotional responses, and not interrupting them until they are completely finished.
  • Micro-moments of positivity resonance are short moments of connection (usually three to ten seconds) that occur when you welcome others as they are. Because teens need both periods of connection and disconnection, micro-moments of positivity resonance are a good alternative to having intense conversations. Ways to experience such moments with your teens include being supportive and affectionate with words and touch, offering an unexpected gift or treat, and saying words of encouragement and affirmation.
  • Alternate between intense (and relatively long) moments of attunement and micro-moments of positivity resonance when relating to your teen.  Intense moments of attunement are usually necessary when an acute emotional need arises (either positive or negative), such as going through an emotional struggle. Take time to fully experience these moments with your teens as their ally. Sometimes, this can mean welcoming spontaneous and unexpected desires, longings, or needs from your youth at random moments.


1. Fredrickson, 2013

2. Boyatzis, Rochford, & Taylor, 2015

3. Broderick, & Blewitt, 2015

About the Author

Fred Defoy

Fred Defoy

Fred is a Ph.D. student in Fuller's Psychological Science program. He holds an M.A. from Wheaton College in Christian Formation and Ministry and is a professional vocational coach (ICF). Fred is currently working alongside Dr. Pam King on JoyRide: Thriving on the Road to Joy and Emerging Adult Spiritual Exemplars. His hope is to contribute to the discussion of helping others embrace their vocation and connect them to their purpose.

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