Seven Ways to Instigate Joy at Work (and in Life)

by Alli Polin on February 17, 2015

How to create more joy at work

Our family has been lucky to travel to many interesting places since moving to Australia. This summer holiday we went to Fiji and the entire plane ride home, I contemplated why my children had tears running down their faces while begging to return to Savusavu.  What made this place so different from the others?

Then it hit me. 

The people who worked at the last stop on our Fijian adventure, the Jean Michel Cousteau Resort, had a joy and passion for living that came through in everything that they did.  Their joy was infectious and so genuine.  Yes, they were paid to do their jobs, but on a daily basis they made personal connections, forged relationships and enjoyed life. Truly, it transformed our stay from really great to remarkable. 

As a leader, you have a responsibility to set the tone for joy a work.  If you’re confused how to instigate joy, it starts with you. 

Joy at Work (and in life):

You can’t buy it.

You can’t demand it.

You can’t train for it.

You can welcome it. 

You can encourage it. 

You can live it.

1) Smile… a lot.  

Something amazing happens when you smile at someone, they smile back.  However, when a leader mandates smiling, it quickly becomes frozen and false. Nevertheless, there is even a gift in a fake-o-bako smile. Researchers have found that when you put on a fake smile it releases endorphins and serotonin. Good feelings invite joy.

2) Create the Space for Life Work Blend, not Balance.

Most people will spend 90,000 + hours at work over their lifetime.  Are you really willing to give up 10 years of your life for 24/7 drudgery?  Create a life where you are and bring your joy to work.  Start small!  Make friends, grab a coffee and for goodness sakes, leave your desk to grab a bite. 

3) Be Human.

When you meet someone new, they inspire you in new ways.  The best part is when you have exchanges that create a bond, not just a transaction. Be human and make a human connection

4) Be Welcoming.

See someone walking towards you? Wave. Say hello. If you know their name, use it. People want to be around people who want to be around people. You don’t have to be extroverted to be welcoming. 

5) Laugh. 

You can take your work seriously while also bringing a sense of play to all you do.  You messed up? Laugh. Someone tells a joke? Laugh.  According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter is a fantastic stress reliever and improves both your physical and mental health. 

6) Be Curious and Discover the Beauty Around You.

The people who worked on the resort in Savusavu walked down the beach and would stop to show you a large hermit crab or blue starfish.  They’ve walked by those things a million times, but sharing the wonder and beauty of nature made joy multiply. 

7) Talk to Strangers.

This advice may not be good for your children, but it’s good for you.  Life and work are more joyful when you experience it with others. People are only strangers until you make them friends. 

My family and I decided we’d travel every school holiday, but we would resist the temptation to go to the same place twice. There are more oceans to discover and people to meet, but I’m certain we’ll be back to the Cousteau Resort.  We won’t return because of the food, rooms, kids club or swimming pool… 

I asked almost everyone I met “How long have you worked here?” and I didn’t meet anyone who said less than five years and some were closer to twenty.  It’s incredible to think that when we return someday that we’ll hug the people who were once simply resort employees and are now a part of the fabric of our lives.

Your turn to Break the Frame and Instigate Joy:

The employees at the resort instigate joy in others because they allow themselves to be joyful (and their leadership team believes in the power of joy).  It’s that simple. 

Ask Yourself:

What do you need to let go of that’s blocking joy?

What do you need to be open to welcoming in your life and work?

Where are you stopping short of stepping into more joy?

How do you instigate joy in your life and work?

For coaching, consulting or speaking Let’s Connect!

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz February 17, 2015 at 7:31 am


Joy-full! Such a difference-maker in life and leadership. Being welcoming, curious, and taking time to laugh are key ways for me to be joyful in what I do. The key through many of these is sharing. We share an exchange of words. We share what sparked our curiosity. We share a laugh. In sharing, there is joy.

Keep sharing. Keep being joyful!



Alli Polin February 18, 2015 at 7:04 am

Everything changes when we make a connection, doesn’t it? We can feel joy alone, but what we really want to do is share our joy with others. That’s when joy-ful reaches its potential!

Thanks for adding to the conversation, Jon!


Karin Hurt February 17, 2015 at 7:43 am

Beautiful list. My favorite is “talk to strangers.” Over the last few years, I have been doing more and more of that, and the rewards are amazing. There is so much joy to be found in connecting with other human beings.


Alli Polin February 18, 2015 at 7:05 am

I’ve also been talking to strangers more and have learned the most fascinating things about them. Truly, I’ve carried the joy and connection throughout the day and it transforms everything. Glad that’s a shared experience for you!


Joy Guthrie February 17, 2015 at 8:47 am

In a previous job, I had to travel a serious amount. I spent a tremendous amount of time on airplanes. Talking to strangers was a very rewarding experience. It can even help you see things you see every day in a new perspective. I was traveling by train and met a person from Los Angeles. She was in serious awe of “how many shades of green” that Georgia has. That was about 20 years ago. I still remember her awe. It drives my own awe now as I look at all the shades of green we have in Georgia. Thanks for a great list, Alli.


Alli Polin February 18, 2015 at 7:08 am

Love that story, Joy! Shows how small moments of joyful connection have strong staying power.

Every little bit we can do to turn around the sour moments of our day to be reminded of the sweetness the better.

Appreciate your experience and love your voice in the mix!


Chery Gegelman February 19, 2015 at 6:30 am

Joy – I love the shades of green thing! Partially because green is extra special now because of where I live and partially because I remember realizing one day that there were so many shades of green outdoors and totally delighting in it as well!


Joy Guthrie February 19, 2015 at 9:31 am

Chery – I understand. I haven’t lived in a place like where you live. When I lived in the high desert of Denver, CO, I found I missed many shades of green. Then, found many other shades of colors I had been ignoring.


Samantha Hall February 17, 2015 at 9:57 am

I laughed when I read you post Alli! This has been the topic of my next post in the Quest 2015 series! I have this one started in draft form and than HAD to write my review of War and the Soul while it was fresh in heart and mind!

Still need to get back in to the ‘joy’ one and explore where I was at with that one! (grins)

After reading this and your last post, if I was more of a gambler, I’d bet that more than a few of us are all ready to book trips to Fiji to stay at the same place as you!

The one thing about joy is this. When someone has it, you know it. It can’t be faked! When people love their jobs, you KNOW it because they SHOW it.

When you love the people you work with, it’s obvious! Because it’s something we show.

When two people are filled with joy to be together and love one another, it’s OBVIOUS because they can’t help but OOZE it out all over the place! (GET A ROOM!!!! grins)

The easiest example of all is to watch children! (those who are cared for anyway…) Every day is a joy filled adventure of discovery and play!

Remember what it was like when we had that kind of joy?

Great post Alli!


Alli Polin February 18, 2015 at 7:14 am

I’m looking forward to reading your take on joy! It was actually a challenge to put it into words until I got rolling.

Children are joyful with abandon, aren’t they? Even when we try to poke holes in it with demands to do homework and clean rooms, their inner spark of joy and play still shines bright. As adults, it’s something we should all seek to recapture.

When I was leaving Fiji and back at the airport in Sydney someone tapped my shoulder. It was the cashier from a shop at our first stop on our trip. I had talked to her about her friends wedding and she was waiting for her visa. Every time I went into the shop, I asked if her visa had come through yet and she remained hopeful with “soon” and a smile. There she was, in the customs line and when she saw me she hugged me and said “it came! I’m here for the wedding” I was so incredibly happy for her that it literally filled my body with joy and as we hugged it was a moment of connection I won’t soon forget… with a stranger…

Again, look forward to your take! Get it out of draft soon 🙂

Thanks so much for adding to the conversation!


Terri Klass February 17, 2015 at 11:54 am

Love you post, Alli! I am smiling just reading it and imagining the laughter you and your family shared on your amazing vacation!

When we lead with joy, we model confidence and openness. I recently had a participant in one of my classes who always arrived in a positive mood. She was eager to learn new things and her energy became contagious for the rest of the group. She elevated and empowered each person to actively engage and laugh a lot.

Here’s to joy and an inspiring way for leaders to think about it! Thanks Alli!


Alli Polin February 18, 2015 at 7:17 am

Sounds like someone as trainers we all want in our sessions! It’s fantastic when positivity expands and captures others to join in!

I love how you mention her eagerness to learn new things too. Growth and the aha moment can often create joy.

Important insight! Thanks, Terri!


John Bennett February 17, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Another great post… Now I need to find some organization that will pay me to consult in your area so my wife and I can get to Figi!!!

Quoting Samantha Hall from her comments: “The one thing about joy is this. When someone has it, you know it. It can’t be faked! When people love their jobs, you KNOW it because they SHOW it.” In comments to Peter DeWitt’s latest blog, I noted that the “more than visibility” he said principals should have needed to be genuine.

I love your thoughts: “You can’t buy it. You can’t demand it. You can’t train for it. You can welcome it. You can encourage it. You can live it.” In keeping with my comments to Peter, I’d add: “You can’t just take it from a publication.” It must be you!!!


Alli Polin February 18, 2015 at 7:20 am

It’s hard to be joyful when you’re feeling put-on. It’s like the moment you get a job offer and you try to act composed and professional when you really want to do cartwheels. The first thing you likely do when you hang up the phone or leave the interview is call someone to SHARE the moment and share the joy in a big, full out totally genuine way. Interestingly, I’m now thinking about shades of genuine too. Joy can look different in different circumstances and from different people. Hummm…. 🙂

The bottom line is that the best thing about joy is it’s something to be shared.

Grateful for you!!



LaRae Quy February 17, 2015 at 1:08 pm

This post was a joy to read, Alli! Your tips are spot-on!

I agree—when we smile at others something magical happens in our brain. Our attitude brightens and negativity has a harder time putting down roots. We start looking for the best in both ourselves and others.

As you point out, we’ve got to make it happen ourselves. I think the reason many people don’t know what they want to do when they grow up (or retire) is that they can’t face the truth—they’ll never find the perfect job, home, spouse, etc. because they don’t know how to start looking for it—by uncovering what is good in their life right now in their current circumstances.

Living in a fantasy is guaranteed to never bring satisfaction in life…


Alli Polin February 18, 2015 at 7:30 am

Such an important point, LaRae! Joy is available to each of us… now. Many people become “complaint departments” without realizing it. They feel lost, unsatisfied and downright miserable. Moreover, many of those same people are waiting for something to change but what really needs to shift is their outlook. Joy is here for the taking (and the living) Why wait?

Many thanks for your addition here!


Brenda Lee February 17, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Great article Alli!

I’m definitely an instigator. Life is too short to be miserable. I feel one of my daily jobs in life is to make people smile and/or laugh. I often tell my co-workers “I’m here for your entertainment.” Mind you, I do get my job done and done well however, to be at work and be stuffy is just not going to work for me. I am the same way out in public and at home. I love to smile and laugh and love it when I can do the same for others.

Thank you for this fabulous article! Passing it along!



Alli Polin February 18, 2015 at 7:32 am

Years ago I worked in an office where one of the SVPs had a distinctive loud laugh and she laughed a lot. I’d be working in my office, focused on my computer screen and I could hear her coming dow the hall or in the conference room, laughing. It was awesome.

What a fantastic way of being! Smiling, laughing and sharing the joy.

Appreciate you, Bren! (I’m sure your officemates do too!)


Debra Oakland February 18, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Thank you Alli for sharing these tips on happiness. Joy is infectious, so I say get out there daily to share some hugs, smiles and joy-full inspiration with others!


Alli Polin February 18, 2015 at 10:53 pm

Debra! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Joy is infectious! If we’re going to be carriers… let it be for joy!




Chery Gegelman February 19, 2015 at 6:32 am

Alli – I read this post on a day I was tired and feeling stressed. It was such a great reminder to count my blessings and to instigate some joy! Thank you for adjusting my focus!


Alli Polin February 19, 2015 at 6:38 am

Yay! Love to hear it! I too have had quite the stressful day and it turns out that the way through was smiling and opening to joy (instead of all of that other nasty stuff).

Thanks, Chery!


Carl February 20, 2015 at 4:58 am

Alli, I echo all the previous comments – such a great post!
A special resonance for #2, Mary Jo Asmus and I have been discussing work/life synergy as the goal – building strategies to help them support each other.

*on a side note, just wanted to let you know your posts always bring a smile to my face –
Best regards,


Alli Polin February 20, 2015 at 5:29 am

Thanks, Carl! It’s a smile that has wings because reading your comment I smiled too.

I love how you put it… work/life synergy. You’ve sparked some thinking in me too…




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