The last few years have presented humanity with unprecedented challenges. And although the pandemic difficulties may be waning, people are still dealing with uncertainty regarding careers, inflation and the economy, and the potential for renewed health concerns. Mental and physical exhaustion, often referred to as burnout, is a reality more than ever. However, you do not have to live with burnout, and the reduced energy, negative emotions, and lack of productivity associated with the condition. There is a simple and surprising anecdote to mental exhaustion and stress – the presence of joy.

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What’s Joy Got to Do With It?

When looking to alleviate anxiety, people often look to take time off or reduce demands on their time and energy – but tapping into joy is a solution most people don’t consider. Experiencing positive feelings and uplifting emotions helps us build the strength and resilience needed to combat stress – and no emotion seems more effective at accomplishing this goal than joy.

While negative emotions can inspire self-focused and survival behaviors like the fight or flight response, positive emotions expand awareness and encourage new ways of thinking and processing ideas. Joy can enhance cognitive ability, helping people to imagine a broader range of possibilities and solutions and building behaviors that help to develop healthy, fulfilling, and more engaged lives. The more frequently we experience positive emotions, the more significant the benefit to our lives.

How Can You Make Joy a Priority?

Once you understand that happiness and joy can work towards defeating depression and burnout, how can you create that joy – especially in a challenging circumstance? It is difficult to find joy when we feel exhausted or burnt out, but experts have some recommendations to help.

Engage with others. While loneliness and isolation can be detrimental to mental and physical well-being, healthy connections can help cultivate joy. In fact, strong relationships are more vital to overall health and happiness than almost any other factor. Even the smallest moments of interaction – such as talking to a shopkeeper or saying hello to a neighbor – can spark the joy that can make a positive impact.
Be grateful. One of the most significant predictors of joy is thankfulness. Feeling gratitude for what we have can represent the most productive road to experiencing positive emotions such as happiness. Regular expression of genuine gratitude can improve health, enable more meaningful relationships – and even allow us to sleep better at night!
Discover meaning. Someone who feels a sense of purpose understands that it is essential to experience a joyful life. Research suggests that recognizing personal purpose and meaning elevates resilience and allows recovery from bouts of depression and burnout. The quest for meaning doesn’t have to include quitting your job and running off to a guru, however. It means looking for opportunities to recognize moments of significance. What is your passion? What gives your life the most purpose? What is important to you? Identifying and pursuing these things, even as a small part of your daily routine, will inspire joy and transformation.

Commit to positive journaling. Mental health professionals understand the significant benefits of writing down our emotions and feelings. This general practice increases our ability to cope with anxiety and stress, but concentrating on the positive aspects of our days will inspire pervasive optimism and enhance physical and mental health. There is no need to be intimidated by the process – begin by writing about one good thing in your day, such as a pleasant conversation or a delicious cup of coffee. Soon you will be writing about your hopes and dreams, celebrating your wins, and recording special memories.

What Will You Focus On?

A traditional Native American legend relates that everyone has a benevolent, loyal dog and a vicious wolf living within them. The two are engaged in a constant battle. The one who ultimately wins, the elders warn, is the one you feed. The story’s moral is that the emotions we choose to nurture will ultimately rule our lives. Choosing regret or angst will cause one set of circumstances to emerge while opting to think about positive events and feelings will result in a more fulfilled existence.

Of course, our emotional and mental health is complicated, and sometimes the best of us needs help and encouragement. If you are seeking a more balanced, happy, and content life – even in the presence of uncertainty and stress – consider reaching out to someone who can help you along the way.

Denise Schonwald is a nationally certified mental health counselor and coach dedicated to her client’s emotional and spiritual health. She works with individuals across the United States and can set up video sessions at your convenience. Don’t put off your journey to a more joyful life – call today.

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