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3 Mindful Exercises to Feel JOY!

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (n.d.) joy is defined as the experience of “great pleasure or delight” and of “the expression or exhibition of such emotion.” Joy is often conflated with happiness although the two are different.

In the most brief of explanations, happiness is a state of feeling satisfied, content or even blissful. It may be felt through a positive experience such as going on a vacation or in material things such as getting a new outfit or eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake. It is an emotion that is temporary based on what is happening or experienced in a person’s life in any given moment.

Joy, on the other hand, is a stronger and lasting emotion that comes from a deep sense of peace, contentment, appreciation, and gratitude. While it may look and feel like happiness, the experience of joy is not determined by external circumstances. Rather, it is developed over time and resides within a person based on their outlook on life, their strong sense of self, or through a spiritual practice. Even in times of chaos and despair, people can still experience joy, yet few experience happiness.

While joy is an emotion we experience all year, it is particularly meaningful to think about during the holiday season. Many holiday songs, traditions, and celebrations are dedicated to the concept of joy, as friends and family gather together to feast, sing, and dance.

To bring more joy into the classroom, the lives of your students, and your own life, we are sharing three joy themed activities we hope you love! These activities can also be done on your own at home or with family and friends.  

Make a JOY List

This is something you and your students can do together as a whole class or it can be an exercise that each person can do independently. Begin by creating your own list as a guide for your students. Ask yourself, what brings you joy? The list is meant to be a reminder of the things you love to do for those days when you need a pick-me-up or a joy boost! Keep the list in your phone or hang it on a wall where you can see it regularly. If you do this as a whole class, the joy list can be hung on the classroom wall. If you invite students to do this independently, their joy list can be kept in a safe place in their desks or taken home.

Joy Ideas: walking in nature, calling your best friend, a hot cup of tea, an afternoon nap, journal writing, drawing, running through the waves at the beach, tobogganing 

Create a JOY Vision Board

Use a whole wall (or section of a wall) in the classroom for you and your students to post images and words that represent your vision of joy. Essentially, a vision board is meant to embody how you want your life to look, sound, and feel. In this case, it’s imagining a life filled with joy. Images can come from magazines, newspapers, the Internet, or personal photos from home. They might include people laughing, hugging, or doing fun activities together. There might be images of nature, animals, or something else significant that represents joy. Words on the vision board could describe joy (e.g., warmth, lightness) or be acronyms for joy (e.g., happy, bliss, cheer, comfort). You and your students can also create your own vision boards on chart paper or poster boards that can go home to be hung up. 

Fill a JOY Jar

This activity can be done for one month or for the rest of the school year (if you’re doing this at home for yourself, consider doing it for the entire year from January to December). Find a jar or container to hold enough pieces of paper for the length of time you plan on doing this exercise. When you or your students have a joyful experience, write it down on a small piece of paper, fold it up, and put it in the jar. At the end date of the exercise (month, school year, or year), take all of the pieces of paper out of the jar and read them. This is a reminder of all the small, large, and wondrous things that happened during that time. The piece of paper can be recycled, used to create a joy collage, or added to a joy vision board. 

Teacher Tip

Before starting any of these exercises, consider the following questions. This will help get into the right frame of mind to think about joy. 

  • What does joy mean to you? 
  • How might you describe joy?  
  • What does joy feel like? 
  • What does joy sound like? 
  • What does joy look like? 
  • What brings you joy?  

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Traci L. Scheepstra, Ph.D., is the CEO/Founder of Embodied Learnings. Read here to learn more about her work in education.

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