The Joyful Path: Embracing Gratitude, Values, and Hobbies

By Paige Sutula, MA, MFT-C

We are constantly bombarded with endless tasks and obligations. From work demands, to maintaining relationships with family and friends, sometimes it feels like there is no time to focus on ourselves. When we take a moment to step back and look at our life from a birds eye view, we begin to realize that even though we experience little glimmers of excitement and happiness, we wish there was more. More connection, more time for passion projects, more joy.

When you ask a child about what they are interested in, you see their faces light up. They go on and on about the latest TV show or video game they are obsessed with. They could spend hours showing you their collection of toys and explaining the intricate details of each action figure they own. Their faces are filled with pure joy, and their smiles are infectious. When did we lose that childlike sense of wonder and joy? 

I believe that even though we have far more on our plates than a young child, we can still tap into that part of us that desires to get lost in our amusements and interests. We can reconnect with joy. However, if we have been disconnected from these parts of ourselves for too long, it can feel challenging to find our way back. Below are a few strategies to try out to rediscover the joy within, and find realistic ways to implement them into your everyday life.

Practice Gratitude

You may have heard of the concept of beginning each day by naming or writing down three things you are grateful for. While this may sound insignificant, research has shown that expressing gratitude helps release dopamine and serotonin, which can help balance our experience of negative emotions, and allow us to feel lighter and happier (Littlefield, 2020). In short, beginning the day with a moment for reflection can help shift our mindset, and allow us to reconnect with ourselves before the day begins. 

Quick Tip: Try starting your day by reflecting on the following questions:

  1. What did I see or experience yesterday that made me feel alive or grateful for?
  2. What physical abilities do I have that allow me to pursue the things I am passionate about? 
  3. What have I learned recently that has allowed me to grow into the person I am today?

Identify and Practice Living within your Core Values

So often we can fall into the monotony of everyday life, completely unaware of what we truly value in life. Included below are a few options for values exercises that can help you identify your core values. Once you narrow down your list, brainstorm activities or ways you can incorporate these values into your everyday life! I like to think of each core value having their own metaphorical bucket. Each time we do something inline with our values, that bucket fills up. When our buckets are full, we can recognize a sense of peace, pride, and joy within. When our buckets are running on empty we tend to be in a place of feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. 

Quick Tip: Take a moment to journal or reflect at the end of each day. What values did you connect with throughout your day? What “value buckets” are feeling full? What “value buckets” could use some attention?

Value Exercises:

Engaging in Hobbies or Leisure Activities

We’ve heard it a million times. Find a hobby! Do something you’re passionate about! However, with our busy schedules it can be far too easy to push “leisure” to the side, and dedicate every free moment towards our obligations. We think that we’ll have time when we retire to travel, or start that dream garden we’ve always imagined. We can’t seem to justify taking time to focus on a passion project that is not inherently “productive”. 

While these narratives are rampant in our culture, there might be some actual benefits to engaging in leisure activities or hobbies. One study found that engaging in hobbies not only increases positive moods, but also lowers our heart rates and stress levels, and decreases negative moods (Zawadzki et al, 2015). 

There can be several barriers to starting a hobby. One common barrier is financial commitment. We get excited about a potential passion project, just to realize we would need to invest several hundred dollars to get started. However, there can be some workarounds! Spend time reading a book or watching videos to check in with yourself and see if this is something worth pursuing. Or visit your local consignment store or facebook marketplace and see if you can find any of the needed materials second hand.

One common belief many people hold is that we have to excel at whatever we are spending time and resources on, in order for it to be “worth it”. The fear of failure can be overwhelming, but remember, the goal of engaging in a hobby is to spark joy, and try something new. It’s ok if you aren’t the world’s greatest chef! As long as you are finding enjoyment in the process, you are on the right path.

Quick Tip: Finding a hobby can feel daunting, but start with reflecting on the following questions to see if any ideas come to mind:

  1. Is there a particular hobby or interest you had when you were younger? What did you like or dislike about it?
  2. What do you think is missing in your life currently? Do you struggle to fit movement into your day? Do you wish you spent more time outside? Would you enjoy working with your hands more? Is there a desire to have more social interaction in your free time?

As we conclude our exploration into reconnecting with joy in our daily lives, it becomes abundantly clear that joy is not merely a destination but a journey—one that unfolds through the practice of gratitude, living in alignment with our core values, and the pursuit of meaningful hobbies. So, let us embark on this journey with open hearts and minds, embracing each moment as an opportunity to connect with ourselves and experience joy in new, meaningful ways.

References 

Alpaio, K. (2022, February 18). Can hobbies actually make you a better person?. Harvard        Business Review.https://hbr.org/2021/10/can-hobbies-actually-make-you-a-better-person 

Littlefield, C. (2021, October 11). Use gratitude to counter stress and uncertainty. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/10/use-gratitude-to-counter-stress-and-uncertainty 

​​Zawadzki, M. J., Smyth, J. M., & Costigan, H. J. (2015). Real-time associations between engaging in leisure and daily health and well-being. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 49(4), 605–615. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-015-9694-3

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