Three unexpected sources of joy during another COVID-19 holiday season.

Conquering Cognitions
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

One time, I ran a marathon.

A friend and I trained for the race months in advance, following a recommended running schedule that “guaranteed” success. The morning of the race, I felt energized and confident. My shoes were double knotted, the iPod was fully charged, and I had two energy gel packs. I was ready!

The first half of the race went smoothly. I was surrounded by other runners, and the shared energy and excitement made the miles pass quickly.

I started to feel tired near mile 13, so I opened a gel pack, turned up my music, and focused on the goal.

By mile 21, everything changed. I hit “the wall” – hard! Although only 5.2 miles remained, it felt like an impossible task. I wanted to stop and give up, but the finish line was so close.

Instead of quitting, I focused on one step at a time until I crossed that lovely finish line. I was relieved to be done, and quickly decided that I was not going to be a two-time marathon runner!

The 2020/2021 Marathon

The last two years have felt a lot like a marathon. We started 2020 feeling energized and hopeful, and then COVID-19 hit. As the months ticked by and hurdle after hurdle was presented, we began to feel tired.

Now, many of us have hit the wall, but we still have a few miles yet to go. The weather is getting colder and we are battling a new COVID variant this holiday season. We are all exhausted!

You, like me, might need some extra motivation for the last few miles. I draw energy and strength from moments of laughter and unexpected joy.

In the event you need a jolt of joy right now, here are a few of my favorite finds.

Mood-Boosting Songs

Music is good for our mood. Research shows that listening to our preferred music stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in motivation and reward. A surge of dopamine makes us feel better.

To maximize the joy from music, we need to be listening to the right tunes. Although individual preference certainly plays a role, science can guide us towards happy songs.

A Dutch neuroscientist, Dr. Jacob Jolij, was asked by a band to help identify the factors that make music happy. Music listeners submitted their favorite tunes, and Dr. Jolij analyzed them for common themes.

He discovered that songs in a major key with upbeat rhythms and positive or fun lyrics are perceived by listeners as “happier”.

Using this formula, he identified the ten happiest songs of all time.

  1. “Don’t Stop Me Now” — Queen
  2. “Dancing Queen” — Abba
  3. “Good Vibrations” — The Beach Boys
  4. “Uptown Girl” — Billie Joel
  5. “Eye of the Tiger” — Survivor
  6. “I’m a Believer” — The Monkees
  7. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” — Cyndi Lauper
  8. “Livin’ on a Prayer” — Jon Bon Jovi
  9. “I Will Survive” — Gloria Gaynor
  10. “Walking On Sunshine” — Katrina & The Waves

There are limitations to his research as it is based solely on Dutch listener preference; nonetheless, there are some great songs on the list. Give them a listen and see if they spark some unexpected joy in your day.

Everything is Awesome

I enjoy Neil Pasricha’s work. During a difficult time in his life, he challenged himself to think of something “awesome” every day for 1000 consecutive weekdays. His blog became hugely popular and he has written several books (These books are Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This is at no additional cost to you), including The Book of Awesome and The (Holiday) Book of Awesome.

A few of my personal favorites from his holiday book are:

  • Staying in your pajamas all-day
  • Putting a Santa hat on your pet
  • Finally finding the start of the roll of tape

There is value in shifting your focus to things you are thankful for instead of fixating on the challenges.

Identifying aspects of your life that are “awesome” aligns with Positive Psychology, a behavioral health movement introduced by Dr. Martin Seligman in 1998. A key component of this field is that health is more than just the absence of disease. A healthy life includes hope, motivation, optimism, confidence, and potential.

Positive psychology is the science of supporting positive emotions. Although Neil Pasricha might not have been thinking about this psychology movement when he started his blog, he has motivated countless individuals to seek the good in their life.

To infuse a little more joy into your day, hum the catchy theme song from The Lego Movie while considering what is awesome in your life.
QuokkaImage by Tracey Wong from Pixabay

A Spark of Joy in the Wild

Quokka, a small marsupial about the size of a domestic cat, has been named the “happiest animal in the world”.

These adorable critters are native to Australia, and selfies with these animals have become very popular on social media. If you need an instant smile, google quokka selfies, and you will see some heartwarming photos.

Despite being happy and approachable animals, they do occasionally bite. Even happy creatures have challenging moments now and then!

Final Thoughts

The last two years have been tough – like an ultramarathon where the organizers forgot to set up the refueling stations. But, the finish line is in sight!

Keep taking it one day at a time and seek out little moments of happiness in unexpected places.

Things that provide joy are all around us, but we may have to look a little harder right now.

Please follow me for more articles on healthy living, self-care, and personal growth. This article was originally published on

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Clinical psychologist turned writer | PsyD | Outdoor enthusiast | Museum lover | We are stronger together | - healthy cognitions can conquer almost anything

Colorado Springs, CO

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