5 Ways To Create Joy Using Your Senses

  • Kaia Roman
image description

Back in college, many moons ago, I learned about state-dependent memory in my Introduction to Psychology course. This is the phenomenon in which memory retrieval is maximized when the person is in the same state of consciousness, or chemical state, as they were when the memory was formed.

Hopeful that the power of state-dependent memory would help our test scores, throughout the week leading up to our psychology final, my classmates and I studied every night in the classroom where the exam would be administered. I think it helped!

Although most studies designed to test state-dependent memory have focused on recreating states under the influence of a substance such as alcohol or a particular medication, lately I’ve been creating state-dependent memory in other ways to help trigger my body and mind back to a state of joy, using my five senses. I’m glad that my Introd to Psych course is finally coming in handy!

Here are a few suggestions you might be able to use, too:

1. Crank the music.

Music can be a powerful trigger for memory and emotion, and nothing takes me there quite like bluegrass. You know how certain soundtracks remind you vividly of different times in your life? Lately, the Allison Krauss Pandora station has become the soundtrack to my joy. Because I’ve spent so much time feeling good when I was listening to that station over the past year, it triggers a positive feeling whenever I turn it on now. I make sure to especially crank it up when I'm stressing about a deadline, and I even listen to it in the background when I need to have a challenging conversation.

2. Use smell therapy.

Aromatherapy is a science and an art, but you don't have to be particularly skilled to use smell to trigger warm fuzzies. It's as simple as surrounding yourself with lovely aromas as often as possible, especially one or more that trigger happy memories or feelings for you. Does lavender calm your nerves? Does the smell of roses make you feel pampered? Perhaps vanilla triggers a warm, pleasant sensation. Smell is a potent carrier of memory. Use this to your advantage by keeping either the raw ingredients or essential oils of your smell of choice handy, and give yourself a dose whenever you need a joy boost.

3. Taste and remember.

There was a favorite Sunday breakfast I used to have at a restaurant that shut down long ago. But luckily, I've been able to recreate the flavors of that breakfast in my own kitchen and bring back those blissful Sundays like they were yesterday. There's a reason for the term "comfort food"– these foods trigger feelings of wellbeing and happiness. And you can utilize your favorites to bring comfort to your body and brain. You may want to choose a healthy option—like a favorite smoothie discreetly packed with kale, or a winter soup filled with veggie goodness, and then treat yourself to comfort as often as you like.

4. Go ahead, wear your favorite sweater.

We all have our favorite old sweater, stretched out yoga pants, or even fancy item of clothing that make us feel good when we wear it. Whether the softness and familiarity of your college jersey is the thing that gives you a cozy, safe feeling—like all is well in the world—or it's those skinny jeans that make your booty look better than Beyonce's, don't keep it tucked away in the closet for a rainy day! Dress for joy, however that looks to you.

5. Watch that funny video that gets you every time.

I have a few funny videos of my kids that I keep on my phone, as well as a couple of favorites on YouTube, which are almost guaranteed to give me a laugh—even when I'm in a sour mood. Laughter, as well as happy memories, triggers serotonin—the brain chemical of happiness. So, go ahead, press play a few times a day. Train your brain through the power of state-dependent memory to find joy again and again.

These are some ideas, but what else do you do to create a joy trigger in your life? Please add your suggestions in the comments below!

Kaia Roman is the author of the upcoming book, The Joy Plan. She teaches Mindfulness to elementary school students in Santa Cruz, California. For everyday mindfulness tips, check out Kaia’s blog at TheJoyPlan.com. Sign up for her newsletter to receive sneak previews from The Joy Plan, which early readers have called "engaging" "powerful" and "highly relatable.” You can also connect with Kaia on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She loves to hear from readers!