Brett and I recently purchased a beautiful, 74-year-old upright piano. I had been wanting one ever since we got married, but we weren’t sure where we’d put it in our little apartment. The only logical place was taken up by a small bookshelf and a fun little turquoise arm chair that spins. We rarely sat in the chair (because snuggling on the couch is so much comfier), but I loved it nonetheless. I mean, how could I not? It spins. I was loathe to move this chair, but oh, how I wanted that piano.
The day finally came that we found our darling Betsy, and a choice had to be made. With a mixture of frustration and elation, I moved the turquoise chair to the spare room (where I hope to someday use it to rock babies to sleep) and relocated the bookshelf to the hallway, making just enough space for the piano to fit between an end table and another bookshelf (we have a lot of books). Since the day we brought Betsy home, I have played almost every day. I didn’t realize how much I had missed playing regularly, and having a piano that I could just walk across the room and play whenever I wanted was such a joy. Considering the fact that I’ve only sat in the spinny turquoise chair a handful of times since we moved into this apartment almost three years ago, it was a good swap.
My dear friend Jenny recently commented on a life change I was making by using the phrase “making room for the blessings you desire.” Her comment stuck with me for days. As I thought about that phrase, I came to the conclusion that there’s something to be said for making space—figuratively and literally—for the things we want in life. So often, we are tempted to fill up the empty, lonely, or frustrated places in our hearts with “quick fix” solutions, busy schedules, addiction, clutter, and other things of little or no value. Those things might make us feel better for a little while, but that relief is superficial. Like moving that chair to make room for a piano, we can invite deep, lasting joy into our lives by intentionally clearing away the distractions to create room for what matters most to us.
I know that’s easier said than done, so here are 12 specific things you can do to help you make space for joy in your life. But this is by no means intended as a checklist. The last thing I want to do is to convince my readers that there is some magic formula for achieving joy. Joy is a process and a lifestyle, not a to-do list. As you think about these suggestions, pay attention to what sticks out for you. That is what you should focus on.
Focus on Faith
I know that there are days when it seems like you barely have time to breathe, let alone say meaningful prayers and study the scriptures. But President Russell M. Nelson has said, “I promise you that as you consistently give the Lord a generous portion of your time, He will multiply the remainder.”
Consistently setting aside time to pray and study the scriptures opens the door to personal revelation. As we seek to understand and obey God’s will, we will find ourselves inspired with ideas for ways to increase our joy through service, magnifying our callings, changing a facet of our behavior to become more Christlike, and increasing our ability to joyfully endure the challenges of life. Whatever promptings the Lord blesses us with, we can trust that obeying His counsel will lead to an increase of joy.
Try Something New
When you start to feel like you’re in a rut, mixing up the routine can breathe excitement into your day—and it’s really good for your brain. Trying new things increases neuroplasticity, or your brain’s ability to change and adapt. It makes you more resilient, more flexible, and better able to think outside the box. Certain therapies even use neuroplasticity to treat depression and anxiety. You could start a new hobby, read something a bit outside of your normal preferences, learn a skill you’ve been meaning to learn for a long time, change your workout routine, take the scenic route home from work, etc. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a gazillion things on your Someday list. Quit putting it off and try something new today.
Savor the "Tiny Joys"
Joy doesn’t just have to come from the big things. So much happiness in life comes from savoring the little details—the things that are so easy to overlook, but which give us a few moments of bliss when we do take the time to notice them. For me, it’s the way tree leaves look when the sun shines through them, or catching a whiff of my neighbor’s wood stove in the fall. It’s the first sip of cold water when I’m really thirsty, listening to the crickets on a cool summer night, kissing my husband’s freshly shaved head, or letting dark chocolate melt ever so slowly on my tongue. I have a little notebook I lovingly refer to as my “Tiny Joy” Journal, and it’s basically a long list of the little things I love. You don’t have to keep a list (although it sure is fun!), but taking the time to notice these tiny joys and let the moment linger just a little longer is a great way to fit a little more joy into your life.
Spend Time in Nature
Science is just starting to recognize that time in nature has a positive effect on mood. The exact mechanisms of that phenomenon are still unclear, but a recent study showed that those who spent a few minutes in nature had reduced brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that we use when we’re worrying. Spending as little as 20 minutes outside every day can be a game changer when it comes to feeling more joy in life, especially if these nature experiences are a regular part of your routine. Take the dog for a walk at your favorite park, spread a blanket out on the lawn and read a chapter of your favorite book, or take up a hobby like plein air painting to get you outside on the regular. Nature is especially good for the developing brains of our kids, so getting them outside with you will help you raise joyful, resilient children.
Build Healthy Relationships
Some of the greatest sources of both joy and sorrow in our lives are our relationships with other people. One way to make space for joy in your life is to be intentional about fostering healthy and happy relationships. You might feel the push to spend a little more quality one-on-one time with each of your kids, or to schedule weekly date nights with your spouse. Sending letters and making actual phone calls shows long-distance friends or family members that they are loved and appreciated. Reaching out in love to mend a strained relationship can provide healing and joy for both parties. Michelle Craig once wrote, “The miracle is that joy multiplies—and everyone you share it with will want to spread it.”
We should also recognize when a relationship is toxic or unsafe. Making space for joy might mean distancing yourself from relationships that are abusive, manipulative, dangerous, or which are negative influences. Please don’t ever feel obligated to stay committed to a relationship for the sake of public image or avoiding hurt feelings. Your health and well-being are important, and letting these relationships drain your energy or put you in dangerous situations robs you of the joy God wants you to feel. I strongly believe that the power of the Atonement can change lives and heal troubled relationships, but the Spirit can also let you know when it’s time to sever ties.
Take Care of Your Mind and Body
When we don’t feel well physically, it’s hard to feel well mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. While I don’t believe that we need to subscribe to the unrealistic beauty standards of society, I do believe that taking good care of our bodies is an important way to find and feel joy in our lives. I have recently started making some healthy changes in my life, and the difference I have already seen in my mood and my confidence is no small thing. Make space for joy by choosing one thing you can do today to take better care of your body.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. In fact, the two often influence each other to the point where it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other ends. If you struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or any other mental health issues, finding healthy ways to address your challenges is an important part of making space for joy. That might include changing your diet, finding a good counselor, taking medication, learning to meditate, or any number of healthy coping skills. It can be difficult to find the right combination of lifestyle changes and outside help, but the payoff is worth it.
Set Balanced Boundaries
So often, we say yes to things out of a sense of obligation or misguided morality. Society and even church culture has fed us this idea that if we aren’t constantly putting our own needs aside to tend to the needs of others, we’re being selfish and un-Christlike. Bologna. Christ set the perfect example in all things, including setting boundaries. He sought moments of solitude in nature. He took time for meditation and prayer. He lovingly reminded people when their behavior was out of line. He rested, spent time with friends and family, kept the Sabbath holy.
We are allowed to say no. Author Christy Wright wrote, “Saying no is about giving an enthusiastic yes to what is most important to you.” Saying no to certain requests, opportunities, and behaviors enables us to focus on our loved ones, our goals, our physical and mental health, and our own spiritual progress.
But the key here is balance. President Thomas S. Monson wrote, “To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves.” While taking care of ourselves is important, I sometimes worry that the “self-care” movement encourages a bit too much focus on ourselves. We’re so busy trying to make our own lives better that we overlook (or reject!) opportunities to improve the lives of those around us.
So take time to fill your bucket, but remember that the reason you need a full bucket is so you can give water to those who are thirsty. Making space for joy might look like making time for yourself, and then making time to serve.
Pursue Your Passion
I see so many women give up their dreams when they become mothers, and that absolutely breaks my heart. I’ve always been drawn to the description of a virtuous woman in Proverbs 31, which is Biblical evidence that a woman can be engaged in many good things in addition to motherhood. Now, don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly believe that motherhood is a noble and righteous calling—one I crave for myself—and that families should be a priority. But I don’t think motherhood (or fatherhood!) and the pursuit of your dreams should be mutually exclusive. The world needs your talents and your strengths. God gave them to you so that you could do the work He has called you to do. (And I know plenty of women for whom motherhood is their sole ambition, and that is perfect, too!)
I also recognize that it is hard to do both. I obviously speak from the space of life without children, and I’m not trying to downplay or discredit the responsibilities parents already shoulder. But as American pediatrician Meg Meeker said, “The most powerful way to teach a daughter how to enjoy life is to let her see her mother do the same.” When you teach by example that it’s okay to set boundaries and make sacrifices that allow you to pursue the dreams and goals God has inspired you with, you enable your children to do the same in their own lives.
I love this sentiment, again from Christy Wright: “When you stop treating yourself, your gifts, and your desires like an afterthought and start chasing your dream, watch what happens. All of those roles and responsibilities and relationships will improve as the quality of your own life improves. You will actually be a better wife or mom or friend or leader when you start creating and living a life you love.”
Learn to Budget
Money can’t buy happiness, but it can affect your peace of mind. Creating and sticking to a budget, paying off debt, being a good steward, and living within your means can help lift the heavy burden of worry and allow you to find more joy in the day to day. It’s easier to enjoy an evening out with your spouse when you aren’t worried about what it will do to your bank account, and Brett and I have seen first hand how trying to be good stewards of the means the Lord has blessed us with brings us greater peace and satisfaction with what we already have.
Get Rid of the Clutter
While I’m definitely not a minimalist (I believe too strongly in books and wall art and plants and postcards), I do find that the tidier my home is, the more peace and joy I feel. Disorganization can cause anxiety and guilt—“How am I ever going to clean all this?” inevitably turns into “I really should have cleaned that today instead of doing _____.” The overstimulation caused by excess stuff can make it hard for us to focus or feel truly settled, and we Americans waste too much time and money on buying stuff, cleaning stuff, looking for stuff, replacing stuff when we can’t find it, and keeping spare bedrooms and storage units full of stuff we’re not using anyways.
And it’s not just physical clutter that inhibits our ability to feel joy. Disorganized files on our computers, busy email inboxes, too many social media accounts, mile-long Netflix watch lists, and overcommitted schedules can all have the same distracting, disorientating, anxiety-inducing affect.
(And just in case there’s any question, I’m typing this from an apartment with a spare bedroom full of junk we need to get rid of and a kitchen that needs to be cleaned, so I get it. The struggle is real.)
Intentionally clearing out the clutter (and avoiding the urge to replace it with different clutter!) is making literal space for joy in your life. It simplifies your housekeeping, makes it easier to balance your budget, and leaves more time for the things you actually want to do. I’m not proposing you turn into an ascetic and eschew all worldly possessions, but there is a certain peace that comes from making deliberate, thoughtful decisions about what you welcome into your home and lifestyle. You get to decide what stays.
There are always going to be non-joyful things that we have to do: going to work, paying bills, cleaning the house, exercising (unless you’re one of those people that really loves exercising—in which case, teach me your ways, wizard!)… We don’t love doing those things, but they have to be done (*grumble grumble grumble*). But instead of gritting our teeth and muscling through these unpleasant tasks, we can try “temptation bundling,” a poorly named but surprisingly efficient technique in which you pair something you should do (but usually procrastinate) with something you want to do. It’s especially effective if you only do the thing you want to do when you’re also doing the thing you should be doing.
For me, this often looks like watching my favorite show when I’m exercising or dancing to my favorite band when I’m cleaning the apartment. It could also look like listening to an audio book on your commute, rewarding yourself with a gummy bear for every chapter you read in that boring text book, or wearing one of those facial masks while you pay bills (if that’s your thing). Bundling a hateful task with a joyful treat can help brighten up the drudgery—and may even help you start enjoying the thing you don’t want to be doing. Thanks to my habit of watching Heartland only when I’m on the stationary bike, I’m almost starting to enjoy exercising.
The beautiful thing about documenting the joyful moments of our lives is that it gives us an opportunity to feel that joy all over again, both when we’re making our record and later, when we look back at the things we’ve recorded. Documenting our lives is also a great way to feel and express gratitude for the things God has blessed us with, or it can help us work through painful experiences to find healing and joy.
There are so many different ways to document your life. You could keep a journal, make photo books, create videos, bury a time capsule, whatever floats your boat. Regardless of how you choose to document your life, the very act of doing it can help you make more space for joy.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to make space for joy in your life. In fact, I had a ton of other ideas on the original list, but this post is long enough as it is. (Maybe I’ll have to do a follow up post…) The point is, if one of these doesn’t “spark joy” for you—or whatever the kids are saying these days—you can certainly find something that does. The trick is to be intentional about seeking, noticing, and acting on opportunities to live a more purposeful, joyful life.
You deserve it.
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 Brett says she shall not be named, but he married a rebel. Besides, she’s a Betsy Ross Spinet, so she literally already had a name. (Also, fun fact: we bought her on the 4th of July. How delightfully patriotic is that?!)