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Finding Your Source of Joy

As we celebrate our third annual National Day of Joy, I took a moment to reflect and consider the true impact joy has on our lives. Science proves that attaining daily doses or joy – big or small – works wonders on our overall wellness, including our physical and mental health.

By Alexis Abrahmson, PhD

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
-Henri J.M. Nouwen

Comfort Keepers believes so much in the power of joy that we founded a National Day of Joy. I took a moment to reflect and consider the true impact joy has on our lives. Science proves that attaining daily doses or joy – big or small – works wonders on our overall wellness, including our physical and mental health. The actual factors that bring about joy, whether they be situations, people, activities, or things, are highly personal and individual to each one of us. Yet, when you are a joyful person, happiness has a way of being contagious and can help spread hope and positivity to others. 

Yes, perhaps we can all agree that living joyfully is important, but how do we do that when we all get caught up in our busy lives? Why is seeking joy particularly important for aging adults? This article will explore ways seniors can find these moments of joy and laughter within themselves or with their family, friends, or their caregivers to improve their mood and overall well-being on the Day of Joy - or any day.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Moments of joy are a must for all of us but especially for older adults. Depression and isolation are more prevalent for seniors and living a life full of joy, happiness and laughter is a great way to lift their spirits and create overall health benefits. Many therapies that focus on seniors are now beginning to incorporate humor and laughter to create more joy.  A little bit of joy can go a long way when it comes to improving a senior’s health, both physically and mentally! 

Whether you're guffawing out loud at a sitcom on Netflix or quietly chuckling at a funny meme, there is no doubt that laughing does you good! One of the most important aspects of laughter, regardless of age, is that it releases what is referred to as ‘happy hormones.’ Serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins are famously happy hormones that promote positive feelings like enhanced mood, pleasure, joyfulness, and even love. So much research is available that speaks to the advantages of being happy, particularly the ‘head to toe’ benefits we receive if we incorporate laughter in our lives on the regular!  By seeking out more opportunities for humor and laughter, we can all improve our emotional health, strengthen our relationships, and find greater joy and happiness—some say it might even add years to your life! 

The Importance of Social Interaction

There’s no doubt that taking the time to connect with people is essential for living well as you age. You don’t grow as an individual if you simply disengage. By exposing yourself to people with different outlooks on life, you can open up a whole new world.  Social disengagement and loneliness are often considered to be routinely associated with physical limitations causing us to become even more isolated. However, studies have shown that an active social life improves cognitive function and overall brain health, especially for older adults.  

As we get older, we tend to become creatures of habit – even more so than we were in our younger days. While routines are comforting, research tells us that one of the habits many of us adopt as we mature is the tendency to become disconnected from friends and family on a purely ‘social’ level (as opposed to a sense of obligation or responsibility). With that in mind, brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits and activities, we can actually jumpstart our ‘trains of thought’ onto new, innovative tracks. Reconnecting and consequently becoming more socially active may just do the trick!  

As life continues to get back to normal, the ability to finally get together again with family and friends is critical, especially for older adults. I don’t think any of us truly realized how much our friends and family provide us with a sense of identity and belonging until those interactions were curtailed or shut off entirely like they were during the pandemic.  

Seniors need social interaction to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. Research shows that older adults who have more social interactions keep higher levels of cognitive function longer, and their memories do not deteriorate as quickly as their more isolated peers. Seniors who stay in touch with family and close friends have also been shown to have lower risks of dementia.  

Family/friend gatherings are also important because this is when ‘experiences’ are passed down between generations. In addition to being something to look forward to, spending time together establishes a foundation for family/friend values and serves as special bonding experiences. For older adults, these moments together are also a way of transferring the family's history and culture from one generation to the next.

Simple Tips on ways Seniors Can Find Joy:

Finding moments of joy every day does not have to be a daunting task. Following are some of my favorite tips to attain joy every day:

  • Embrace your Interests: try something new that you always thought about or connect with people who share your current interests or hobbies
  • Prioritize Family and Friends: a recent Comfort Keepers study found that connecting with family, loved ones and friends delivered the most joy compared to activities, events and things
  • Bond with Family Virtually: in-person visits are not always possible, so we’re so lucky that we have mobile phones, social media and technology to help us keep in touch from far away. The same Comfort Keepers study found that seniors have embraced texting, emojis and social media to bond with the grandkids
  • Indoor or Outdoor Exercise:  exercise can result in joy! Studies have indicated that people who worked out only once or twice a week said they felt much happier than those who never exercised – plus it leads to improved physical health for seniors. Exercise can apply to a wide variety of strength and mobility and can include stretching, balance exercises, yoga, Tai Chi, walking, gardening, bicycling, and swimming.

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