Find Your Way to Embodied Joy

You don’t need to laugh large to feel joy from your head to your toes—though it doesn’t hurt. Start with a smile—and notice where it takes you.


I am a big laugher. I’ve been told that even in a room of a thousand people, you can always hear me laughing over the crowd. For me, laughter is the ultimate form of embodied joy. And by “embodied,” I mean that my whole body is involved when I laugh. On the inside, it’s like a bubbling fountain of joy spilling out all over the place.

But what is joy, anyway? Life can feel grim, but if you decide to follow the sound of the joy-fountain, you will find joy showing up in all kinds of places: kittens playfully bouncing around, the first day of parole, kindness, cuddling up to a big old oak tree, or even in nothingness.

Unexpectedly, I have felt embodied joy after sitting in a silent meditation retreat for hours and hours. I frequently enter raging against the silence, but as it engulfs me, I notice joy emerging as though my inner being was a large, lazy lion stretching and warming itself in a sunbeam.

The Joy in Everyday Life

How else can you find your way to joy? A friend moved into a new apartment and needed some help, so I helped him. Afterwards, he was obviously so much happier and at ease. I noticed that playing even a small part in his happiness brought me great joy, and I took a moment to let this feeling of embodied joy in.

We can practice letting joy in by noticing how it feels to smile. Where does your body light up when you smile? When I smile, it makes me want to take a deep breath, and I notice my shoulders and belly relaxing. When I embody caring and loving, it feels great!

You might notice joy showing up when you act in alignment with whatever brings you happy thoughts, emotions, and feel-good body sensations. When my friend is happy it makes me happy, so participating in that brings me in contact with that joy-jam. 

No one other than you owns your happiness.

We literally need nothing to feel joy, even in the midst of despair. Sadly, many of us are numb to joy, or suspicious of it. Maybe you are afraid to open up to joy, or maybe you are so unfamiliar with what joy feels like that you ignore or resist it when it comes knocking. No one other than you owns your happiness, but you might unknowingly block feelings or experiences that help you embody joy. The bum deal is that when you can’t embody joy, you miss out on one of life’s essential vitamins.

Want more joy? Don’t be afraid to look silly. Silliness helps us take things less personally. It helps us see the world the way a kid does. It allows us to laugh and frolic over nothing. When we can find more joy in the smalls of everyday life, we can embody happiness, rather than just pursuing it.

Try This Practice to Juice Up the Joy

Your busy, burdened life might feel like it’s not offering many opportunities for joy. Try this Nourishing and Depleting Activities list, a tool from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to see how you might be standing in the way of your own more joyful day. Write down a list of your everyday activities:

  • Rolling out of bed
  • Looking at yourself in the mirror
  • Showering—with or without singing
  • Checking social media and the morning’s headlines
  • Cold pizza and coffee or ? for breakfast
  • Conversations, work details, bouncing off coworkers

Beside each activity put an “N” if it Nourishes or energizes you, and put a “D” if it Drains or Depletes you.

What do you notice about a day filled with Depleting events versus Nourishing ones? We may not be able to get rid of all the depleting things on our list, but how about the items that are in your control? Are there ways that you can add a Nourishing component to a Depleting task? For example, on a busy day planning a healthy meal for yourself. Enjoy! You could listen to a nourishing podcast on a tiresome commute, or you could turn off the camera and do a little chair dance in a long meeting or maybe do a breakdance on the subway—make a few bucks and dazzle your friends.

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