Senior Living: How to Find Joy (or at Least Peace) During Challenging Times

A senior can face a number of different challenges and problems. For some older people, these challenges and issues seem to grow in number, significance, and intensity as the years go by. Recognizing the reality of life in later years, a person needs to strive for happiness but needs to develop an existence in which joy (or at least peace) is possible, even during more challenging or problematic times.

The Difference Between Joy and Happiness

We begin our discussion of finding joy or at least peace during challenging times by discussing the difference between joy and happiness. And there is a difference, one that many individuals do not necessarily recognize.

Joy and happiness are often used interchangeably. With that said, joy and happiness technically are not synonymous terms. They really do mean two different things.

Happiness refers to the pleasurable feelings or emotions that result from a situation, experience, or object. On the other hand, joy is a state of mind that can be found even in times of grief or uncertainty. As a result, it actually is possible to cultivate joy independent of our immediate or particular circumstances.

In order to illustrate the point, winning the lottery may trigger happiness, at least in the short term. Spending time engaged in meaningful activities can result in long-term joy for a person.

What Loss of Joy Means

Loss of joy or the inability to feel joy in life may be a normal response to prevailing circumstances. Loss of joy or the lack of ability to feel it can also be indicative of a mental health issue in some circumstances, according to Harvard Medical School. According to Harvard:

Life has its ups and downs, but sometimes challenging events occur all at once. When our world is turned upside down, it’s normal to feel a lack of joy. Health problems, losses, breakups, housing challenges, natural disasters – the list of severe stressors and traumatic events is long. Most adults will experience multiple severe traumas and losses throughout their lives. Loss of joy in these contexts is a natural part of the human experience.

Feeling a lack of joy in these types of circumstances is within what medically is considered a normal emotional response. When catastrophe strikes, maintaining a sense of joy can be understandably and appropriately challenging

In the cases of some individuals, a lack of joy might appear out of the blue. This lack of joy descends without any identifiable cause (of the type we discussed with you a moment ago). In other situations, an individual might experience a life event that justifies a joyless feeling. However, this lack of joy persists and does not dissipate. This persistence can extend well beyond the resolution of some life event that may have triggered a sense of joylessness in the first instance. Other people in a similar situation would have rebounded to a surer sense of normality within the time frame in question.  

When Lack of Joy is Indicative of a Mood Disorder

A lack of joy may occur can persist if a person is suffering from a mood disorder like depression, according to Harvard Medical School. According to Harvard:

The inability to feel pleasure (also known as anhedonia) or to experience joy is part of the diagnostic criteria for depression, and it’s pretty common.

Approximately 8 percent of adults in the United States will experience depression during the course of a year. About 20 percent of U.S. adults will encounter or experience at least one episode of depression during the course of their lives.

Depression is not the only mental health condition that can result in a loss of joy. A loss of joy can also accompany a psychotic illness as well as dementia. It is also important to note that there are medications that are used to treat depression that can result in a loss of joy. This occurs with medications used to treat depression that cause what oftentimes is called “emotional blunting.” Emotional blunting may not only relieve symptoms of depression, but it can hamper an individual’s ability to experience joy as well.

Joy and Feel-Good Neurotransmitters

We will not delve too deeply into the neurobiology of joy. It is complex. We do note that there exist a few neurotransmitters that are prominent in promoting positive feelings:

  • Dopamine
  • Serotonin
  • Oxytocin
  • Endorphins

Many changes in our lives can increase these neurotransmitter levels, taking us on a course towards joy. The effects of neurotransmitters on the body are extensive. These run the gambit from relaxing your muscles to speeding up your heart rate. In the end, they may result in a final common pathway of promoting positive feelings. Whether it is finding a sense of purpose in your life or enjoying supportive relationships, the benefits on the mind and body are far-reaching and profound.

How to Increase Joy in Your Life

According to Harvard Medical School, there are some practices, tactics, and techniques you should consider employing as a means of increasing or enhancing joy in your life. These include:

Perform a regular aerobic physical activity. Physical activity has the potential to release a considerable amount in the way of neurotransmitters. Moreover, the effects linger for a period of time long after the aerobic exercise is over.

Dedicate yourself to other people. Research has revealed that activities including volunteering produce greater joy than focusing on yourself.

Connect with your spiritual side. When we join with something larger than ourselves, we develop feelings of:

  • Gratitude
  • Compassion
  • Peace
  • Joy

Connect with your spiritual side. Meditation is found to be a powerful way to modify brain pathways in a manner that increases a sense of joy.

Discover something new. Research has also revealed that humans are hard-wired to experience joy when experiencing something novel or something new. Developing a new pursuit can help us refocus our energy, reinvigorate our lives, and give us a sense of joy.

Give yourself permission to take a few moments of pleasure. This particularly is the case when you are feeling low, overworked, or almost overwhelmed.

Pay attention to the good. You have the potential to develop a joyous mindset. You need to understand that developing a joyous mindset does take practice.

Limit negativity. At the other end of the spectrum, you also want to eliminate negativity in your life. Negativity comes in many forms and can include such things as:

  • Gossipy neighbors, coworkers, or even people you consider friends
  • A toxic relationship with a family member
  • A complaining friend

Spending time around a negative mindset influences us directly. It’s okay to set limits. You should extract yourself from people, places, and circumstances that seem to foster the potential for negative mindsets.

Focus your efforts on what brings meaning to your life. What brings meaning, and then joy, to your life is a personal determination unique to you. What brings meaning and then joy to someone else’s life is uniquely their own and not transferable to you. In this regard, you should avoid a focus on money.  

If you continue to have problems experiencing pain, schedule an appointment with your doctor. A determination can be made in regard to whether some clinical options might be available to you to assist you in addressing the lack of joy you may find yourself experiencing in your life.