What is a happy place, exactly? In pop psychology, we’re told a happy place is a perfect moment, a coping technique for escaping unpleasant realities. But it can be so much more than that! Quite simply, a happy place is any location, activity, or experience that brings you that most elusive of adult emotions: Joy.
When was the last time you felt Joy? Really think back. What was happening around you in that moment? Chances are, that’s one of your happy places. Chances are even better that you haven’t given yourself space or time to go there in a while.
You see, Joy comes so easily to us as children–almost effortlessly and seemingly at random–that we never quite learn how to deliberately cultivate it. Sure, we’re told to cultivate Joy constantly: “Look on the bright side,” “Count your blessings,” “Think positive,” etc. Pat solutions that are much harder to do than they are to say. Finding Joy, let alone sustaining it, feels like a monumental feat sometimes.
The answer to this is so simple that you’ll wonder why you hadn’t thought of it sooner, and you’re not alone; but just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s obvious. You have to physically occupy the spaces that bring you Joy. Stated another way, if you feel Joy somewhere, you have to go and stand in it.
Children do this instinctively. They are driven by delight and have plenty of time to do the things they like and seek out their favorite places. And because we’re operating on instinct, when the tasks and responsibilities of age creep up on us, we don’t make a conscious shift into how to find that Joy again. Just like many things we used to do spontaneously that we have to schedule now–parties, friends, sex, hobbies–Joy must be planned for, or she’ll seldom show up.
The great news is that, like an old friend, Joy is ready to greet you nearly the moment you show up on her doorstep, and she can be found at all of your old favorite meeting spots. Maybe that’s outdoors, in parks and on rivers and in woods; maybe it’s in the limelight, dressed to the nines and strutting your stuff again; perhaps it’s in your studio, or up to your elbows in engine grease, or in a dusty old book shop. Whatever used to bring you Joy before will bring you Joy now. You just have to schedule a playdate.
Opinions differ on what “a life well-lived” is, but the one indisputable fact is that we should be able to enjoy life. It’s not just about having the right priorities, or being smart, or making the best use of your time. All of those are good, of course–but a decent office assistant performs the same functions. If happiness is simply making the best of what you’ve got, then joy is the key that unlocks it all.
Take a few minutes to jot down a list of the places that always bring (or brought) you the most pleasure. And if there’s only one extra thing you do this week, one stolen half-hour, make sure that it’s visiting one of those places. You and Joy have a lot of catching up to do.