15 simple ways to live a joyful life

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Yesterday I saw a colorful poster that said, “find your joy.” 

My 5-year-old daughter asked me to read it to her and said, “So her name is Joy? Why is she lost?”

As I struggled to explain the quote to her, I realized something, too. We always hear about ways to find happiness or how to find happiness. But happiness is not a lost object, so it’s not something to be found. Rather, it’s a feeling that can be activated through simple means at any time. 

Here are 15 simple ways to live a joyful life.

1) Smile.

You can fake a smile, but you can’t fake the effects smiling has on your brain. 

In 2020, researchers from the University of South Australia published a study evaluating the impacts of a fake smile. They did this by forcing facial muscles to mimic the movements of a smile by asking the study participants to hold a pen between their teeth. They found that the forceful practice of smiling stimulated the amygdala, the part of our brain that releases our feel-good neurotransmitters. Their study proved that smiling alone can trick the brain into thinking you’re happy!

2) Do something you love each day.

Some people are blessed with jobs or businesses that allow them to do what they’re passionate about. But if you’re not part of this group, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a happy life. It’s still possible by squeezing in stuff you love to do throughout your day. 

Listen to your favorite music. Eat food that you love. Soak in a warm bubble bath. Binge-watch K-dramas (yep, that’s me). Take dancing classes. Shoot hoops. Cuddle with your kids. Read a book on the commute to and from work. Enjoy a cold beer. Catch up with loved ones. Do nothing. 

I can go on and on, but you get the point – it doesn’t have to be big as long as you do something you love daily.

3) Practice mindful eating.

Don’t worry. This isn’t about what you should and should not eat. Rather, it’s about how you should eat your food. Although some people use it for weight loss, mindful eating focuses on the way you consume your food more than what’s in it. 

It’s an approach to eating where you slow down to take in the entire dining experience. To eat mindfully means to pay close attention to how the food looks, smells, and tastes. It requires that you take note of what your body feels with every bite and pay close attention to your body’s signals when you’re full.

So how does mindful eating create a joyful life? 

When you practice mindful eating, you better understand your eating habits. Knowing this will allow you to take control and make adjustments according to what your body tells you. When your body feels great, your mood also perks up.  

Finally, mindful eating fosters gratitude. You will be thankful for what you’re eating and even grateful for the hands that prepared it. A grateful heart is a joyful heart. 

It’s definitely not an instant happy pill. But it’s a process that, when done correctly, could improve your overall mood and well-being.

4) Adopt an attitude of gratitude.

Again, a thankful heart is a happy heart. And again, it’s not just a quote. Research has proven that practicing gratitude positively impacts our feelings of happiness.

There are so many ways of practicing gratitude throughout the day. 

Start by being thankful for another day once you wake up.

As the day goes on, keep an eye out for things to be grateful for. It can be the little things, like a sunny day or easily finding a parking spot. Some days will also give you bigger things to be thankful for, like getting a job offer or an acceptance letter from the university of your choice.

End the day by remembering good things that happened and being thankful for each and every one of them.

5) Unplug and bond with nature.

Smart devices and social media have become staples in most people’s lives. There are benefits to these gadgets and platforms, but you can’t deny that they can also harm our happiness.

I, for one, have been off my personal social media since losing a lot of family members to various illnesses during the pandemic. I found scrolling through my feed and seeing continuous posts of deaths and illnesses of friends and family emotionally draining. On top of that, my feed was also full of devastating news from various media outlets. Seeing these made me sadder and definitely wasn’t helping with my grief. I did what I thought was best for me then and deactivated them, leaving only the messaging features open. 

It had an instantaneous effect on my mood. I was still grieving, but my sadness wasn’t aggravated by depressing events from my social media feeds.

Try being gadget and social media-free for at least an hour each week and take note of its effects on your mood and emotions. While you’re at it, try walking at the nearest park and reconnecting with nature. Studies have shown that regularly visiting green spaces can lower the rates of depression and high blood pressure.

6) Exercise regularly.

You don’t need to be a gym buff to enjoy the mood-boosting benefits of exercise.

According to Harvard Health experts, exercises like running, walking, swimming, yoga, or biking release hormones that boost our mood and reduce our stress levels. They also talked about a study that found that walking for 90 minutes made the same improvements in mood as that of antidepressants. 

Generally, the advice is to have at least half an hour of moderate physical activity daily. You may not always have the time, and it’s okay. A quick 15-minute walk around the neighborhood will do and is still better than doing nothing. 

7) Surround yourself with a tribe – a happy one.

“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

This quote by motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, has drawn mixed reactions. What’s your take on this? Does it apply to you? 

If you’re unsure, pause for a moment for a quick exercise. Think about 5 people who you’re always with. Next, think about how they talk, act, and their habits. Finally, reflect on yourself. Are there any habits or mannerisms that have rubbed off on you? Your answer will either prove or discredit Rohn’s statement above.

Personally, I believe having friends and connecting with like-minded people are enough to make a more joyful life. And if given a choice between having happy, positive friends or a cynical, critical bunch, I will, without a doubt, go for the joyful tribe. 

8) Be you. Do you.

One of the worst things you can do to yourself is to sacrifice your happiness for someone else’s. Another is changing who you are to please others. These two are instant buzzkills. But don’t just trust my word on this. Let me give you the research that proves it.

In 2013, Tel Aviv University experts published the findings of their study about authenticity. 

Their experiment involved two groups. One group was told to recall and write a situation where they were being authentic. The other group was asked to do the same but using a situation wherein they were inauthentic. 

At the end of the activity, both groups were asked to complete a happiness test based on how they felt at the present time. 

The results revealed that the group who were true to themselves was significantly happier compared to those who were asked to recall a time when they were being inauthentic. 

As cliche as it may sound, you only have one life. Having a joyful life requires you to live it as your true self, doing what you want to do. Live it for you. 

9) Never compare.

Part of being true to yourself is embracing your flaws. Comparing yourself to others will only foster negative emotions that can overpower your happiness.

Thanks to the social media world of filters and scripted content, it’s easy to feel a sense of lack and insecurity. Keep control of your happiness by avoiding comparing your life to others. 

Also, the reality is that someone will always have more, and no one will ever be truly perfect. But we can be truly happy when we learn to love our imperfections and appreciate what we have.

10) Do random acts of kindness.

Psychologists claim that people who help others are significantly happier than those who don’t.

So it makes sense to add random acts of kindness to the habits that will make you happier. 

Volunteer at a local shelter. Pay for the next person’s coffee. Give someone a sincere compliment. Babysit for someone. Wash your partner’s car. Leave snacks and refreshments for the postman.

Kindness comes in so many forms, so there are tons of random acts that you can try. The list is endless. Try doing one each week, then push it to every day and see how much joy that brings to your life.

11) Stay positive.

It’s very hard to feel unhappy when your mind is full of positive thoughts. Go ahead, try it. 

Create a habit of being positive all the time. Even when it’s hard, push yourself to see the silver lining in everything. It’s like the attitude of gratitude we talked about earlier. When we focus on the positive, we instantly boost our mood. 

Focusing on the positive takes time to master. But with practice, you will find yourself automatically defaulting to positive mode. 

12) Write it down.

Writing is one way of letting out and letting go of feelings we would otherwise have bottled up.

Performance and positive psychologist Dr. Jeremy Sutton enumerated many studies showing the emotional benefits of journaling. These positive effects include better mood, regulated emotions, and reduced anxiety. 

You don’t need to be an experienced writer to do this, as there’s no proper format for journaling. 

The key is to write something every day. You can make your journal entries as short or as long as you want. 

13) Spend more on experiences.

Let’s face it, some people get instant mood boosts just by buying something. 

There’s nothing wrong with spending. If it makes you happy and can afford it, then go for it. But every once in a while, try this simple spending switch: purchase an experience instead of something material. 

For example, instead of getting that designer bag, use the money to book a luxury staycation with your family (or on your own if you’re single or without kids).

What’s the difference between these purchases? With the bag, you’ll get instant joy, which may or may not fade away once the bag has been in your possession for longer. With the experience, you get to experience happiness during the trip but also through the years as you reminisce about it. 

14) Have regular date-yourself nights (or days).

Whether in a relationship or not, or whether you have kids, you must take yourself out on regular dates. 

Set a day when you go out alone every month, doing whatever you want. My version of a date-yourself day varies, but mostly it’s going out for a massage followed by a facial and a nice coffee after. Sometimes, it can just be window shopping on my own, and sometimes it’s as simple as having coffee at the beach. 

Indulging yourself is practicing self-care, self-love, and self-worth – all a must to live a joyful life. 

15) Inhale. Exhale. Ignore.

Allow me to share my mantra as the last entry on this list. I use this whenever I face a situation beyond my control. I take a deep breath, breathe it out, and then let go of it and ignore the situation. I won’t lie. Sometimes it takes more than a couple of breaths in and out before I can really let go and ignore, but you get the point. 

According to Harvard experts, deep breathing exercises like this work because they allow full oxygen exchange. When this happens, our heartbeat slows, our blood pressure stabilizes, and we become calmer.

Life will occasionally surprise us with circumstances where we can’t do anything to resolve it even if we try. When this happens, use deep breathing and relaxation techniques to preserve your joy. Choose your battles and let it go. 

You hold the key to living a happy life. 

One pattern stood out as I skimmed through our list of the 15 simple ways to live a joyful life. A lot of the things in this list all point back to you and what you do. This means that no one and nothing else is responsible for creating your happy life other than you. 

99% of the time, the key to living a joyful life is in your hands. 

The remaining 1%, when life throws you a curveball, you may not have the key, but you know what to do…

Inhale. Exhale. Ignore.

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