How can you find joy (or at least peace) during difficult times? - Harvard Health (2024)

How can you find joy (or at least peace) during difficult times? - Harvard Health (1)

An older adult patient once told me, "There are good decades and bad decades." I remember the shock at hearing this — the patient was referring to the relationship with his wife. For many of us, 10 years seems like a very long time to struggle. How do we find joy when experiencing difficulties — or how do we at least make our struggles bearable?

Loss of joy may be a sign of a mental health problem — or it may be a normal response

Life has its ups and downs, but sometimes challenging events occur all at once. When our world is turned upside down, it's normal to feel a lack of joy. Health problems, losses, breakups, housing challenges, natural disasters — the list of severe stressors and traumatic events is long. Most adults will experience multiple severe traumas and losses throughout their lives. Loss of joy in these contexts is a natural part of the human experience.

For some people, however, the lack of joy persists or appears out of the blue. This may occur in a mood disorder like depression. The inability to feel pleasure (also known as anhedonia) is even part of the diagnostic criteria for depression, and it's pretty common. Approximately 8% of US adults will experience depression in a given year, and approximately 20% will experience an episode of depression during their lifetime. A loss of joy may also accompany other mental illnesses, including psychotic illnesses and dementia. Certain medications, including (paradoxically) those that treat depression, can also cause emotional blunting and a loss of joy.

What's the difference between joy and happiness?

Joy and happiness are often used interchangeably. However, happiness technically refers to the pleasurable feelings (emotions) that result from a situation, experience, or objects, whereas joy is a state of mind that can be found even in times of grief or uncertainty. Thus, we can work on cultivating joy independent of our circ*mstances. Winning the lottery may trigger (short-term) happiness; spending time engaging in meaningful activities may result in long-term joy.

Joy and feel-good neurotransmitters

Although the neurobiology of joy is complex, there are a few neurotransmitters that stand out in promoting positive feelings: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. The good news is that many changes to our lives can increase these neurotransmitter levels. For example, running may produce a "runner's high;" spending time with a baby releases oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone" that makes you feel connected.

The effects of neurotransmitters on the body are broad, from relaxing your muscles to speeding up your heart rate, but they may result in a final common pathway of promoting positive feelings. Whether it's finding a sense of purpose or enjoying supportive relationships, the benefits on the mind and body are far-reaching.

How do you increase joy?

During difficult times, it becomes twice as important to modify your routine, allowing yourself to experience joy. Here are some ideas, although it may take some trial and error to find what works best for you:

  • Perform regular aerobic physical activity. Think of physical activity as releasing a bubble bath of neurotransmitters — and their effects linger long after the exercise is over.
  • Dedicate yourself to others. Activities such as volunteering produce greater joy than focusing on oneself.
  • Connect with your spiritual side. When we join with something larger than ourselves, we develop feelings of gratitude, compassion, and peace. Meditation is a powerful way to modify brain pathways to increase joy.
  • Discover something new. As humans, we are hard-wired to experience joy when experiencing novelty. Developing a new pursuit can help us refocus our energy.
  • Give yourself permission to take a few moments of pleasure, especially when you are feeling low. You can try NPR's Joy Generator for a taste.
  • Pay attention to the good. A joyous mindset can be developed, but takes practice. The three good things exercise helps you keep an eye out for the positives during the day.
  • Conversely, limit negativity. Whether it's gossipy coworkers, a toxic relationship with a family member, or a complaining friend, spending time around a negative mindset influences us directly. It's okay to set limits.
  • Focus your efforts on what brings meaning to your life (and don't focus on money).
  • Ask your doctor about whether your medications can affect your ability to experience pleasure, especially if you are taking antidepressants.

Surprising benefits of joy

Regardless of the changes you make to your mindset or to your daily routine, increasing your ability to find joy may provide long-lasting health benefits. Your immune system can be strengthened by your mental state (immune cells even have receptors for neurotransmitters). Interventions to increase joy may also decrease stress hormones, improve pain, and relieve depression. Finally, finding joy can help you live longer.

How can you find joy (or at least peace) during difficult times? - Harvard Health (2024)


How can you find joy (or at least peace) during difficult times? - Harvard Health? ›

Discover something new. As humans, we are hard-wired to experience joy when experiencing novelty. Developing a new pursuit can help us refocus our energy. Give yourself permission to take a few moments of pleasure, especially when you are feeling low.

How can you find joy or at least peace during difficult times? ›

These include the ability to acknowledge difficult feelings; to reframe a situation more positively; to experience gratitude for the good things we still have; to be kind and generous to others; and, last but not least, to cultivate a sense of humor. Makes sense, I thought.

How to find joy in troubled times? ›

Develop a daily gratitude practice.

By doing this, even during the most difficult or distressing times, your gratitude practice will help bring your circ*mstances into perspective, indirectly create joy, and keep you grounded.

How do you find joy in everyday life? ›

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.

How to find joy when anxious? ›

  1. Start small. In a moment of stress, it's common for a scarcity mentality to set in. ...
  2. Widen the aperture. Stress narrows our focus, causing us to ruminate on our worries and fixate on our challenges. ...
  3. Get a nature fix. The power of nature is that it not only elicits joy; it also reduces stress. ...
  4. Play a game. ...
  5. Phone a friend.
Mar 12, 2019

How do you find peace in difficult times? ›

9 Ways to Find Peace of Mind in Tough Times
  1. Learn to trust yourself. “It isn't as bad as you sometimes think it is. ...
  2. Focus on what you're learning. ...
  3. Ease your expectations. ...
  4. Open up to someone you trust. ...
  5. Use hope to drive positive action. ...
  6. Move TOWARDS something instead of AWAY. ...
  7. Take a few steps back. ...
  8. Give yourself time.
May 9, 2013

How can I find peace and joy? ›

12 mindfulness tips to help you find inner peace
  1. Meditate. Despite being a simple act, meditation can profoundly affect your mental state. ...
  2. Live in the present. ...
  3. Cultivate a positive mindset. ...
  4. Develop love for yourself. ...
  5. Practice self-care. ...
  6. Visualize a peaceful place. ...
  7. Learn to breathe effectively. ...
  8. Access nature.
Aug 1, 2023

How can we find joy in suffering? ›

Only with God can you find joy in suffering. God's unchanging character can anchor you in the darkest valleys. As you draw close to him in your time of suffering, you can choose joy within your pain and even point others to God through your example.

How do you find joy in adversity? ›

Be thankful in the moment. Think of three good things that happened over the past week and reflect upon those memories. Research shows a routine gratitude practice helps to increase happiness and overall well-being, especially during adversity.

How can I be happy in troubled times? ›

Disconnecting from toxic media, taking action on your stress, giving, exercising, and nurturing your relationships, are all scientifically proven ways to bring happiness into your life - even in the most challenging of times.

How do you find simple joys in life? ›

Finding joy in the ordinary moments of life is what makes life truly fulfilling. Take pleasure in a good meal, a warm hug, or a cozy blanket on a cold day. 𝐂𝐮𝐥𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐌𝐞𝐚𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐟𝐮𝐥 𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐧𝐞𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬: Happiness is often found in our relationships with others.

How to make yourself happy again? ›

How to be happier
  1. Manage your stress levels. If you have a lot of stress in your life, find ways to reduce it, such as learning a few time-management techniques. ...
  2. Enjoy yourself. ...
  3. Boost your self-esteem. ...
  4. Have a healthy lifestyle. ...
  5. Talk and share. ...
  6. Build your resilience.

What are three examples of joy? ›

The flowers are a joy to behold! Seeing her again brought tears of joy to my eyes. Their sorrow turned to joy. I can hardly express the joy I felt at seeing her again.

How do I find peace in the midst of anxiety? ›

Consider these tips anytime, anywhere, to get started:
  1. Accept what you can't change or control. You can't actually control your mind and simply tell it, “Be more peaceful” — just as you can't control life. ...
  2. Practice forgiveness. ...
  3. Practice mindfulness meditation. ...
  4. Make time for yourself. ...
  5. Keep a journal. ...
  6. Get back to nature.
Aug 19, 2021

How to find out what brings you joy? ›

4 Questions to Identify What Brings You Joy
  1. Doing what we love helps us feel alive inside. ...
  2. Think back to Your Childhood – What did you do in your spare time? ...
  3. What are you Curious about? ...
  4. What would your Dream Day look like?

How to be happy in difficult times? ›

In this blog, you can find how you can empower yourself and embrace happiness in your life.
  1. Five TIPS to Make your State of Mind Happy! ...
  2. Surround yourself with positive minds: ...
  3. Love the Simple Things: ...
  4. Be Good, Do Good: ...
  5. Live the Moment Using Mindfulness. ...
  6. Avoid Unrealistic Expectations: ...
  7. Bonus TIPS: ...
  8. Conclusion.
Feb 24, 2023

How to remain joyful in difficult times in the Bible? ›

Dwell on the Good

How can you have a “cheerful heart” in the midst of grief and brokenness? The apostle Paul admonished us to trust God even within tragedy and choose to dwell on what is good in the person or situation (Philippians 4:6 – 9).

How do you find peace when life feels overwhelming? ›

How to Find Peace When Feeling Overwhelmed
  1. Practice Meditation and Mindfulness. One of the most important tasks as you seek peace is to find and master ways to calm your mind. ...
  2. Set Goals and Get Support from Kansas City Life Coaching. ...
  3. Move Your Body with Yoga in Downtown KC. ...
  4. Soothe Your Spirit with Energy Healing.
Jun 28, 2022

How do you find peace and happiness within? ›

Practice Acceptance and Contentment

In finding peace and happiness, acceptance and contentment are key. Accept that you will have problems in life and learn how to deal with them. Being contented means having emotional, physical, or even financial contentment.

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