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Make Joy Your Personal Research Project by David Baum, PhD, DMin

Each year, I have a practice of undertaking a “personal research project.” I investigate something that I want to learn about and explore. I encourage you to do the same thing and make 2021 a year of joy.

Author and researcher Barbara Fredrickson says, “A key to steering your own happiness is reflecting on the things that make you come alive.” Do you know what that is for you? When was the last time you really considered what brings you joy? Think of the things you did as a child as a starting point and go from there. The important thing is to become aware of what joy looks like for you, where it shows up, what makes you laugh—and then repeat it!

Start with these simple steps:

  • Identify it. For 30 days, track what brings you joy and delight that day. Maybe even write it down.

  • Buy for it. Spend money on items that will support your joy practice. If you love being outdoors, then get perfect clothes and put your money into great shoes. If skiing does it for you, then get the swag you need.

  • Make it visible and accessible.

  • Design it into your day. I want you to consider making humor and joy a non-negotiable part of your day. The key is to focus on joyful things, along with the things you must do. Don’t fit joyful activities into your days—fit your days around joyful activities.

To get you started, here are some ideas to try. Like anything we are trying to change, it requires practice and discipline … even joy.

  • Write down the things that delight you at the end of every day. Do this especially during COVID because it helps prevent the days from running together and keeps you focused on ending each day positively. This is not the year to get everything you want. This is the year to appreciate everything you have.

  • Give four hugs a day. Seriously. We are becoming hug atrophied, and it’s affecting our internal joy and humor. Even if you have to hug yourself.

  • Initiate stimulating conversations at dinner by using a deck of question cards. The problem with COVID is we’ve never been more together physically, with less to say. Sometimes we need a little support. The cards are training wheels for COVID conversations.

  • Commit to one degree of change on joy or humor every day. That’s it. Over time, it will compound and grow. We are born with what psychologists call our emotional set point—this is our genetic wiring for happiness, joy and positivity. It makes up roughly 50% of our outlook. Our environment makes up another 20% of our response. Our set point and environment are tough to shift. BUT that leaves 30% in “house money” for you to begin trying new things and changing your outlook. It may not seem like much, but in psych terms, that’s a massive number. By increasing your joy by one percent a day, your life will be different at the end of 30 days. Start small and trust that momentum will build.

  • "Just connect," as the writer EM Forster said. Truly joyful people have one thing in common: they have plenty of good social relationships. These include interactions that psychologists refer to as “social snacking”—little ways of connecting with other human beings, including strangers.

  • Be nice. Research repeatedly shows that if you do a few good gestures a week, maybe three to five, you feel happier and more joyful. These don’t need to be grand gestures. At the store, let someone join the line in front of you. Give a compliment. Choose to make your spouse happier three times this week. Make your efforts other-focused and, as Lin Manuel Miranda famously penned, “Talk less. Smile more."

  • Learn a magic trick. Any trick. Magic is wonder, and wonder is a direct path to joy. Tannens in NYC is a great place to check out. Here’s a trick you can do yourself.

  • Plan. In other words, consider a mix of physical activities that energize you, escapist activities that relax you and time spent safely with people in your bubble who make you laugh or bring you joy. This practice helps both in the moment, and it builds anticipation through the week.

  • Argue in another voice when issues come up. A friend of mine came up with this brilliant solution and gave these guidelines to his family. Every time they fought, they had to speak in a Donald Duck voice. Kids included. Whatever they were upset about, they just quacked out their grievances. The result? No argument lasted over five minutes without them bursting into laughter. This is a perfect practice for pandemic living.

  • Write a hope note and leave it for people to find. Give without expectation of anything in return and let the joy of kindness be your reward. When she was going through a tough time in her life, my stepdaughter Kate practiced joyful self-care by anonymously placing Post-it Notes in public places that simply said, “You are loved.” She carried a packet wherever she went. This small act gave her enormous solace and joy and helped her feel better in huge ways.

In conclusion, I leave you with this quote from a favorite writer, Annie Lamont. “Joy is the best makeup. Joy, and good lighting.”

David Baum, PhD, DMin

For more than 30 years David has facilitated big conversations that create big change. With two doctorates—the first finding horizontal connections as a social psychologist and the second looking for vertical ones in divinity—he seeks the overlap. His why is always the same: create connection without dots.

David has worked on conflict mediation in Northern Ireland, designed walking board meetings in the Middle East and large-scale change projects for Shell Oil, Barclays, GE and Fidelity Investments. His clients have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the World Children’s Prize, the Malcolm Baldrige Award and the Clinton Global Citizen Award. He's also worked in a circus. No one has ever accused him of being boring.

To view David's powerful salon video presentation on joy, click here.

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