6 min read

Generating joy and happiness

Image of a snow covered lake with a person lying on a red sled
Sledding on Trout Lake, ON, 2023 / Photo by Robert Walsh

Dear reader, have you ever asked yourself, “what if, whenever I wanted, I could generate some joy?”

During my first mindfulness retreat, I filmed an interview with Brother Phap Dung, and we talked to him about young people learning mindfulness. During the conversation, he said something like, “what if people started putting on their resume that they have the ability to make themselves happy?” It’s a funny question, but what a wonderful work environment that would create – where everyone had the capacity to make themselves happy at any moment!

I have a lot to say on the topic of happiness because there is so much in Applied Mindfulness that points towards different ways of viewing happiness and practicing to cultivate it. For now, I want to simply talk a bit about play and child-like joy.

Child-like play

Before I get to the featured image from this post, I want to rewind a little bit. Last summer, I had this question that I was inviting in whenever I remembered,

What would it mean, at this moment, to invite my inner-child up to play?

I had realized how much joy and happiness I could generate when I allowed myself to play like a child. I can try inviting the playful side of me to jump, dance, climb, explore, and just straight up get curious about what is around me. One concrete example, that I was practicing last summer, is channelling the inner-me that is super curious about a big construction hole in the ground. Imagine yourself as a 4-year-old child asking,

  • “What’s under there?”
  • “How big is that hole, really?”
  • “You mean, there is soil below the road??!!!”
  • “How far down does the earth go!!??”


Even as I write this, I have a big ol’ grin on my face. I feel joy just by simply connecting to my memory of embodying myself as a 4-year-old child.

The secret is really committing to it.

Ok, on to the featured image of this post.

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a cottage in Northern Ontario on Trout Lake. It’s UofT’s reading week, so Elli and I took the week to work remotely. At the cottage, there is a set of stairs that lead directly towards a frozen lake. When we arrived, it was clear that the stairs were a perfect sledding hill… So yesterday, Elli and I hopped on to some children’s plastic sleds and did loop after loop down the stairs and out on to the frozen lake. For a good 45 minutes, we allowed our inner children to play in the snow. Again, as I call up the memory of allowing my inner-child to play (sledding this time), I smile.


You know, it’s funny – I was initially resistant to sledding. I had all these “logical” reasons in my mind not to sled, “it will be cold, it will take lots of energy, I just want to sit by the fire and relax.” The list goes on. None of the alternatives in my mind were things that would generate joy – maybe some contentedness and ease, but not child-like joy.

I resisted taking the risk of going out into the cold, but by taking that risk, I was able to experience pretty big joy! These moments of child-like joy are now there as images in my mind that I can invite up any time in the future to generate some happiness in that present moment. I can both remember a specific moment during a stressful time, and I can put this experience into action again. I know that it’s possible to generate joy with play because I’ve already done it before!

Dear reader, how often do you enjoy some child-like play? When you walk past construction (especially if you live in Toronto), do you simply ignore it or view it as an inconvenience? How often do you allow yourself to hop on a sled, a bike, a seesaw, or anything else you might have played on as a kid?

What if, the next time you came across an opportunity for play, you allowed your curious inner child to explore a bit?

Allowing myself to feel joy even amidst great challenge

Sometimes I have a hard time connecting in to joy and happiness when I’m in the storm of suffering – in a moment of activation, sadness, anxiety, or overwhelm. In the last few months, I’ve connected with a number of close friends and colleagues who are going through loss and grief, and I think it’s been a challenging time for them. I know that it has been a tough year for many people.

Experiencing joy and happiness isn’t an invitation to suppress and run away from our sadness. At the same time, it’s ok to give ourselves permission to set down our difficulty for a moment (knowing we can pick it back up as we need to), and experience some joy even amidst the suffering.

We might be tempted to dive deep into our suffering to “figure it out” or “to find a path forwards.” Looking deeply can be helpful, and is one aspect of transforming suffering. Another aspect is to simply generate some joy and happiness.

The happiness we experience can be nourishing and healing. It nourishes us in the present moment (it’s fun to sled down a hill) and it helps provide some stability and freshness that we need for the process of healing. In this way, a moment of happiness can do the work of transformation indirectly.

We can nourish ourselves, with joy and happiness, to provide the energy for transformation.

The bonus of curiosity

Very often, when I allow my inner child to play, curiosity and exploration come along for the ride. It is effortless and natural for them to manifest in those moments.

I can then take that curiosity, that I’ve trained in myself during moments of joy, into my exploration of suffering and difficulty.

Sometimes seeing something with fresh eyes is precisely what is helpful.

No need to wait

My mind is often tempted to wait for all of the conditions around me to be perfect before I allow myself to experience happiness. Even in a neutral moment, I can forget to notice the positive conditions all around me. Where I am right now, there is a beautiful wide open view of a snow-covered lake surrounded by forest, and I can forget to look up out of my computer for hours on end!

Each moment that I take in the positive conditions around me with curiosity, I allow myself to nourish some happiness. In this way, I practice arriving home in the present moment.

Dear reader,

What might be a condition for happiness that is available for you to connect with right now (big or small)?

It could be the joy of friendship and love. It could be basic things like food security and a roof over our head. Maybe it’s just a warm chocolate chip cookie that you can enjoy with a glass of milk…

Whatever it is, we do not have to wait to touch happiness. It is possible right here, right now. We can go outside and play for a moment right now, we can connect to a memory of play, or simply remind ourselves of some positive conditions that are present right here, right now.

If this is feeling hard to find in your space, please feel free to imagine me doing laps up down our “sledding steps,” fully bringing with me the 4-year-old Rob that enjoys sledding, just to sled.

Reminder: the resources page is always here for you. It is where I collect all the links, resources, and references from every post.

As always, please leave a comment or message me. I’d love to hear from you. It would bring me joy to hear about what you are doing this week to nourish some joy in yourself and arrive home in the present moment 🙂.

As a bonus, here are a few more photos from my adventures this week.

For even more images, see my photography website.