Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 18, 2024

Learning to manifest joy in a time of constant stress

By LAURA WADSTEN | November 17, 2020



Following advice from O, The Oprah Magazine, Wadsten created a list of all the things that make her happy, including delicious food.

I’m going to be honest, when I heard the fall magazine was going to center on the theme of joy, I didn’t think I’d have an article to write. Being a Hopkins student is stressful enough at the best of times, let alone during the chaos that has been 2020. I’ve been all kinds of overwhelmed, and I’m not alone; according to a survey conducted by the University of Chicago, American happiness is the lowest it has been in 50 years.

You’re probably wondering why I’m starting this article about finding joy with a pretty somber tone, but this is simply realistic. I won’t lie and say, ‘I’m fine,’ or lie and tell you everything is going to be fine — frankly, the foreseeable future doesn’t look too “fine.” However, having struggled A LOT to keep my sanity and a (reasonably) positive mindset these past few months, forcing myself to sit down and write about joy yielded surprising insights.

2020 has been absolutely no one’s year, but my experience with the pandemic was a bit unique. While the rest of the world seemed to be struggling with a new abundance of unrequested free time, mine seemed to completely disappear. As a Science & Technology Editor last spring, my workload shot up when we were sent home. Of course, I didn’t mind that — science journalism has never been so widely read, and I honestly don’t know how well I would have handled not being busy. This is not a complaint or request for pity; rather, I seek to establish my credibility as an over-stressed bitch and note that I did not find any new hobbies during quarantine (I still haven’t finished Tiger King). 

Unsure of what to write about when I feel like my head could explode any given day, I googled “joy.” After skimming a few articles about positive psychology, I clicked on a piece from a cornerstone publication of doctor’s office waiting rooms across America — O, The Oprah Magazine. As usual, America’s personification of Chicken Soup for the Soul delivered. The tip that helped me find some of that elusive joy was simple and perhaps obvious, so at first I dismissed it. Eventually, with no better ideas, it was time to try Oprah’s advice, and... it worked.

What was this groundbreaking strategy to find joy? Write a list of all the things that make you happy. No, Oprah was not the first person to recommend this. Somehow, though, I’d never actually taken the time to write my own list — until recently, that is. I knew many different things brought me joy, but putting them on paper proved to be surprisingly grounding. As the list grew longer, the tension left my shoulders and my breathing slowed. Seriously.

If you’re feeling stressed by our current world, I highly suggest you write your own list. To start, picture your happy place. When the image comes to mind, pay attention to the colors of the scene, who and/or what is around you and what you’re doing — these are some of the things that bring you joy. For further inspiration (or if you’re just curious), here’s my list:

  • Dogs — all of them
  • The color yellow 
  • Thought-provoking conversations
  • Being outside, even during brutal Minnesota winters
  • Eating yummy food (I miss you, Tamber’s)
  • Natural sunlight streaming in through windows
  • Taking naps in the afternoon
  • Serving others, even in small ways
  • Writing (who would have thought?)
  • Listening and dancing to Latin music
  • Spending time with my nieces and nephews (the rest of my family, too)
  • Casual social interactions, like small talk (this one’s backed by science)
  • Maintaining a clean, organized home because I can be a functional, independent adult
  • Taking long bubble baths 
  • Burning candles (just not in University housing)
  • Surrounding myself with houseplants (looking at plants can reduce stress, even artificial ones!)
  • Learning something new

Remember that writing this list is supposed to be an act of self-care. Don’t worry about length; this isn’t an assignment, and there’s no minimum or maximum word count. There are no right or wrong answers — I imagine that writing won’t be on everyone’s lists — so just allow your mind to wander. You might be surprised how much joy you find.

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