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Stress isn't new. Modern technology has made some tasks easier, but stress levels have stayed the same or increased. About 27% of U.S. adults report that they are so stressed most days that they are unable to function. Over 75% experienced at least one stress-related symptom in the last month, like headache, fatigue, nervousness or feeling depressed.
Joy is a powerful emotion and harnessing it can be a remedy for stress-related burnout. Contentment and joy can positively improve physical and mental health and overall well-being. Here's what you need to know to build, cultivate and sustain joy in your life.
Joy versus happiness
It's easy to confuse the emotions of joy and happiness because they often are experienced at the same time. Yet, some nuances should be distinguished. Often, happiness is the emotional reaction to what is happening around you. Whereas joy isn't reactionary and often is driven by internal motivations like working toward a goal or finding a purpose in life.
"Happiness is an emotion, whereas joy is more a state of being," says Rebekkah Frunzac, M.D., general surgeon and chief wellness officer at Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin and Albert Lea, Minnesota. "When you are joyful, it doesn't mean you are always giddy or happy. But it means you can appreciate moments of happiness within the bigger context of life."
"Happiness is fleeting, but my joy still drives me on a terrible day," says Karizma. "Because I have a purpose in life, I still have joy even during a horrible time."
Joy isn't experienced in a vacuum. Most of the time, it's a feeling or sentiment that spreads to others through your attitude and actions.
"I think of joy as a ripple or a domino. On my team, we share a connection of wanting to care for women and children," says Karizma. "This shared purpose, and joy, builds a connection between everyone on the team. When you link joy together, it becomes even stronger."
Tips for discovering joy
Joy looks different to each person and can be found in everyday situations. Some people find joy in caring for others, spiritual connections, spending time in nature or continually learning. Other people discover joy in different activities, relationships or personal empowerment.
Karizma refers to these pursuits as "filling my cup" and encourages people to feel empowered to seek and discover what brings them joy. Having activities or a purpose replenishes physical and emotional energy and helps people be more resilient when times are tough.
Dr. Frunzac and Karizma offer additional tips for embracing joy daily:
Focus on what you can control.
Many possible stressors in life are outside of your control. The weather, how others treat you, your past, natural disasters, your relatives and other aspects of your life exist without your input. While building joy, focus your time and attention on things you can control.
"I've learned to not internalize the things I can't control," says Dr. Frunzac. "This frees me up to better navigate the situation and focus on my personal happiness and mental health."
This can be easier said than done. Write out the details of a stressful situation and outline which aspects are in and outside your control. Then make an intentional decision to shift your attention to things you can change, including your attitude.
"Our attitudes are often a choice. We can spend time ruminating on something that is negative and out of our control or decide to see the good in something and choose joy," says Karizma.
Gratitude is being thankful or showing appreciation for the things and people around you. This could be sending positive thoughts to someone special, writing a text message to a friend or listing three things you are grateful for each day. Practicing this daily helps your brain shift its focus to appreciation and blessings, instead of problems and challenges.
"It's easy to get bogged down in what we don't have, what we want or situations where we feel like we have been taken advantage of," says Dr. Frunzac. "Being deliberate about listing our blessings helps us recognize that, even with stressors, most people are very lucky and fortunate."
Assume good intent.
When stressed, any additional inconvenience or misunderstanding could be viewed as unjust and an intentional barrier to your joy. In most cases, people are simply doing their best with the information and skills they possess, and their actions are not malicious or spiteful.
"When you start a relationship from the position that somebody else is bad or wrong, then that relationship is set up for failure," says Dr. Frunzac. "But if you can assume positive intent and approach every problem as though you are sitting on the same side of the table attacking the problem together, rather than attacking one another, you can find common ground and fulfillment."
Concentrate on building relationships.
To various degrees, all people need social connections with others. For many, helping lift others creates a sense of purpose and joy. If building healthy relationships is at the core of your efforts, you can find happiness and joy in your life.
"One of the best parts of leadership is finding out what fills the cups of your team," says Karizma. "Part of being a good friend, good partner and good spouse is to recognize what is great in everyone and lift them up. Sharing in their joy and cheering them on helps us recognize the good things in ourselves, too."
Some decisions or situations have serious, long-lasting effects on your life. But often, things that seem important today may only matter a little or not at all in five or 10 years. It's common to recall the feeling of stress or worry years later, but not the actual scenario that caused it.
As you strive for joy, remember to keep perspective on which situations and decisions are monumental and which are not, like little annoyances.
"Everyone has aspects of their jobs that they don't enjoy," says Dr. Frunzac. "But learning to accept those parts helps compartmentalize them. Not everything we do is a defining moment in our lives. Sometimes, it's just a job that needs to be done."
Help is available
Even joyful people have difficult or unhappy days. Dr. Frunzac and Karizma stress that help is available for anyone struggling with depression or anxiety more days than not. Your health care team can help assess your symptoms and offer local resources to help you.
Mayo Clinic Health System invites you to try one or more of these free, self-guided virtual programs to help you improve different aspects of your health and wellness:
- Discover Gratitude
This monthlong program will help improve your mental well-being through daily journaling.
- Journey to Wellness
This yearlong program focuses on different aspects of healthy living each month. Using the provided resources and activities, choose those important to you, and complete them on your schedule.
- Kickstart Kindness
During this monthlong program, you'll complete as many activities as you'd like from the list of nearly 100 ideas. You're invited to extend kindness to co-workers, community, environment, home and family, neighborhood, school and yourself.
- Slim Your Screen Time
This two-month program encourages you to increase physical activity, build social relationships that contribute to resiliency, and improve your mood and mental health. Play, explore and connect more by completing as many activities as you'd like from a list of nearly 100 ideas.