BYU Education Week: 5 ways to activate your inborn capacity to experience joy

PROVO, Utah — Carrie M. Wrigley once thought that joy and happiness were something a person either had or they didn’t. However, she’s since learned that everyone is capable of having joy. 

“I have seen through my own eyes that people can learn,” the therapist and licensed clinical social worker said during BYU Education Week in a series of classes on Aug. 17-18 on finding joy. She pointed to some of her own experiences with depression and when she faced challenges and opposition. “People can build joy, even out of some of those very harsh, difficult circumstances.”

She noted teachings from President Russell M. Nelson: “Life is filled with detours and dead ends, trials and challenges of every kind. … Yet we are here to have joy?

“Yes! The answer is a resounding yes!” President Nelson said in “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” from the October 2016 general conference. 

All of Heavenly Father’s children come to Earth with an innate ability to experience joy, Wrigley said, showing pictures of babies and toddlers with bright smiles and laughing faces. 

The late Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in the April 1996 general conference: “Children teach us how to find joy even under the most challenging circumstances. Children haven’t yet learned to be depressed by concentrating on the things they don’t have. They find joy in what is available to them.”

The Savior taught, “Behold your little ones” (3 Nephi 17:23).

The ability to experience joy can become dimmed or forgotten as people grow older, but because this ability is innate, it can easily be rekindled, Wrigley said.  

“We cannot simply expect joy. We must actively find it. We must actively build it,” she said. 

She outlined and described five tools every individual is born with that are simple but powerful ways to reclaim joy. 

Faculty member Carrie M. Wrigley speaks on “Finding Joy, No Matter What the Circumstances” inside the Pardoe Theatre during BYU Education Week in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021.
Faculty member Carrie M. Wrigley speaks on “Finding Joy, No Matter What the Circumstances” inside the Pardoe Theatre during BYU Education Week in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

1. Action: Do what you love — and do what loves you back. 

For some it may be singing and dancing. For another it could be playing the piano or talking with a friend. Ask the question, “What was it that made me so thrilled early in life?” 

If depression or anxiety hold someone back from wanting to do something they love, Wrigley suggested they follow the “as if” principle and act “as if” they wanted to do it. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment and find new hobbies if present circumstances — like the COVID-19 pandemic, for example — hinder opportunities to do things someone enjoys. “Broaden your menu,” she said. 

2. Feeling: Feel and express your feelings.

No one needs to teach a baby how to cry, scream or giggle, Wrigley said. But over time, that natural inclination to feel and express feelings is silenced. 

“We can’t feel joy if we can’t also feel pain, sorrow, hurt, anger, and so on, “ she said. Suppressing these feelings can quench joy. 

Everyone expresses feelings differently. Some helpful tools can be journaling, therapy and prayer, she said. 

3. Positivity: Notice and enjoy the good things.

A simple exercise Wrigley recommends to many of her clients is keeping a gratitude journal. Write down three things every day that are positive, she said. This could be something that happened, something funny a child said or something one noticed in nature. 

The late President Thomas S. Monson, 16th President of the Church, often emphasized having “an attitude of gratitude.”  

Faculty member Carrie M. Wrigley speaks on “Finding Joy, No Matter What the Circumstances” inside the Pardoe Theatre during BYU Education Week in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021.
Faculty member Carrie M. Wrigley speaks on “Finding Joy, No Matter What the Circumstances” inside the Pardoe Theatre during BYU Education Week in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

4. Learning: Develop new abilities and skills. 

As babies grow, they learn to focus their eyes, hold their head up, roll over, sit up, crawl and walk. The ability to develop new abilities and skills is innate. 

“You can absolutely teach an old dog new tricks,” Wrigley said, referencing research on neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections in response to learning. 

Never stop learning, she encouraged, because lifelong learning is key to lifelong joy.

5. Creativity: Focus on creating rather than consuming.

Society today has never been more consumer driven, she said. But as children of the Creator, everyone has a divine ability to create. Children love to create — they experiment with their voice, make up dance moves and draw pictures. As they grow, they continue to create. 

Whether it’s cooking, playing an instrument or painting a landscape, “there’s so many things that we can create. And creating something of beauty, something meaningful, something satisfying, gives us joy. It is part of our innate inheritance as sons and daughters of a living God.” 

See more of the Church News’ coverage of BYU Education Week