Around the holidays, we hear songs about joy – whether that’s “joy to the world,” or “tidings of comfort and joy.” But what is joy, and where can we find it these days?

Psychologists define joy as a positive emotion in response to something good in life – often something that feels like an unexpected blessing. With family gatherings, holidays, and the general festivity of the season, this time of year is ripe for moments of joy.

We also associate the holidays with presents – but with inflation on many people’s minds, there might not be as many gifts this season as there were in past ones. And many of us experience feelings of grief and loneliness during this time.

Even so, there are ways to find joy that don’t cost anything, and can perhaps help us find a way through bad feelings. As a recent study found:

Appreciating our everyday experiences may be an important pathway to meaning in life.

However you feel about the season in general, we hope you’ll be able to find small moments of joy in your everyday life as the year comes to a close. Greater Good surveyed their staff about their simple holiday joys, which might spark some ideas for you.

See Other People’s Joy

I love watching other people being happy during the holidays, such as people slowing down to cook a special meal or people walking out of a toy shop with a big box and quietly smiling. Or watching with pleasure while a friend opens a gift, and people’s faces touched with love while sitting around a table with family and friends. It’s all good! I believe the Dalai Lama once said something like this: “If you can be happy that others are happy, then you can always be happy, since there is always someone somewhere who is happy!”
(contributed by Rick Hanson)

Send A Loving Text

One of my favourite – and simplest, small-effort, cost-free – activities that provides a great deal of happiness is texting people in my life and letting them know how much they mean to me or that I’m thinking of them or how grateful I am for their friendship or support.

It’s so easy to do and it makes them (and me) SO happy – far exceeding the effort that this simple exercise takes.
(contributed by Sonuja Lyubomirsky)

Delight In The Senses

During a recent discussion over dinner, we talked about the sensual dimension of the holidays. My partner talked about the scent of the tree in our house; my ex-wife remembered a moment when we were on holiday in Switzerland over Christmas, looking out over a snowy valley surrounded by mountains with the lights of the cute Swiss cottages creating a sense of human comfort in what would have otherwise been a very forbidding landscape. Our teenage son and I talked about the taste and smell of holiday food: chestnuts, pumpkin pie, homemade biscuits, honey-glazed ham, eggnog, and more. The holidays are invitations to appreciate and savour such small, animal sensations, especially with the people we love.
(contributed by Jeremy Adam Smith)

Slow Down

One of things I most appreciate about this time of year is the sense that society takes a moment to slow down.

Work slows down, email slows down, and it is understood that gathering with loved ones takes precedence over our work lives. We need this time – as individuals and as a society – for the restorative processes that are so key to health. So whoever you are gathering with, whatever you are eating, I hope we all enjoy a little restorative downtime during this time of year!
(contributed by Belinda Campos)


My favourite holiday ritual comes at the end of the family Christmas party when we all sit down and sing. We belt out Christmas songs but also share Irish folk songs and maybe Taylor Swift songs, too. How’s it sound? Let’s just say we are not the Jacksons 5, but it’s not about the quality of the voices but how the singing makes us feel! Singing is an embodied experience; we resonate with sound. Whilse we are singing we are also in-sync with other singers physically and emotionally, sharing messages of love, peace, and heartbreak. Try it!
(contributed by Leif Hass)

Keep A Tradition Going

My college roommate and I have been watching Love, Actually for the past 16 years together. Although she’ll be in London this time around, we will FaceTime to ensure the tradition keeps going. We know it like the back of our hands but there’s nothing better than carving out time and holding traditions you love with those you care about during the holidays! (Oh, and we have snacks too, of course!)
(contributed by Riana Elyse Anderson)

Reconnect With Old Friends

When I go home over the holidays, I look forward to reconnecting in person with friends I grew up with. It’s comforting to spend time with people who knew me in my earlier years to who I am now. Around these friends, it’s easy to get past the artifice that’s part of many everyday encounters.

We don’t see each other through the lens of our careers or accomplishments – we see who we’ve always been outside of those things.

Over the years, we’ve encouraged each other to stick out tough times, to remember what’s good about ourselves, to take part in activism that matters. Most importantly, we laugh so hard that we cry. (Well, at least some of us.)
(contributed by Elizabeth Svoboda.)

Share Memories Together

My family often takes time to look through old photo albums together – sharing memories of family adventures and get-togethers with extended family members, some of whom have already passed. I especially love to share these stories with my young son, who reminds me how these are the new good old days now, too. As a little girl, I was my mother’s wanna-be sous chef as she baked traditional bread early in the morning for our honey-laden breakfast feast. Now, I savour the image of my son standing in the same spot at the kitchen counter with excess flour dusted on his sleeves while my mother is standing at the oven – tending to the bread as it’s baking to ensure that it’s just the right shade of golden-brown colour. I’ve got the jar of honey in hand to drizzle over the bread as we – three generations – share the first delicious bites in our warm kitchen. This simple joy is a profound feeling of being home.
(contributed by Maryan Abdullah.)