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How to find joy in 2021, according to a joy strategist

Feeling down about the new year? You need Grace Harry. She shares the secrets of happiness with Suzannah Ramsdale

Grace Harry

Joy is not a luxury,” Grace Harry, tells me over Zoom from New York. “Joy is a birthright.”

It’s an on-brand statement - Harry is a joy strategist. Thing is though, we’ve just been through a shocker of a year, and the pandemic’s not over yet and, well, it’s January. Joy feels elusive at best, impossible at worst. So how can we find it?

“It’s simple,” says Harry, who used to be married to Usher and whose clients include high-flying entrepreneurs, bestselling authors and artists like Jay-Z and Lauryn Hill. “Do one thing every day that brings you joy.”

The key to feeling happy, according to Harry, is to build yourself a toolbox of techniques and activities that spark joy. It’s about taking little moments for yourself during the day from the moment you wake up. “You have to make a decision: how do you want to feel? Make that decision and then work on crafting how you feel every day,” she says. “The key thing is to start the day that way.”

Some of her clients keep a colouring book by the bed and do ten minutes of drawing when they wake up, another one writes herself empowering messages on her bathroom mirror, others dance like no one’s watching to their favourite song in the kitchen while having a cup of coffee. Harry calls her sessions ‘playdates’ and they can last from anything between an hour to an afternoon, prices vary from $650 to $2,000.  

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“Find a little joy, even if it’s for one minute while you’re taking a shit in the morning. Make that a moment, have something next to you that you read. I do, I have something I read every single day which gives me a different perspective.”

What else does a joy strategist do? “I have a dance party to connect with my body, where I pick songs from when I was younger that made me feel like the queen of the world - and I dance like a crazy person with no judgement about how I look. It’s a game-changer to my day.” She also recently took up arts and crafts. “I’ve been painting, sewing, tie-dying. I’ve been playing and it’s transformative.”

Harry’s strategy for joy boils down to one main idea: connecting with our inner child. There was a time, when we were little, she says, before the weight of the world and other people’s expectations started to crush us, that we didn’t care what anyone thought. We did what we wanted, when we wanted and we lived moment to moment seeking joy.

“If you’re not sure how to find what sparks joy for you, go back to that time when you were a kid,” says Harry. “I was 11 when I had my most ‘badass, I’m running the world’ moment. I started to go back into all those moments to figure out why I felt so free. If you just take a minute and think about what was your most favourite thing - the one thing you loved to do and everytime you did it you felt filled up. Well, then that’s what you should do every morning.”

It can be as silly as you like. Harry, for example, loves swings. “I was put in foster care, I was homeless for a while, but everytime I would get on a swing and go high above the ground, I felt like everything would be ok. So one of the first things I did when I was going through a divorce with my third husband, I went to the park on all these swings and remembered that I used to feel good all by myself.”

We all - but women in particular, she says - live too performatively now, always worrying what other people think; if people like us; if we’re accepted. “We make ourselves smaller, making sure everyone is happy, but the only ones losing are us. When we’re born, there are a number of years - depending on how complicated your parents were - where you lived in the belief of your own joy. You swung your arm if you felt like it, you wore two different shoes… that was the truth of who you were because you were living completely by how you felt. But now we live so performatively to make sure that we’re wanted and accepted.”

Will 2021 be the year you find joy? Race you to the swings...

A joy strategist’s toolkit for joy

1. Gratitude. Gratitude changes your state of mind, so as soon as you wake up, run through a list of things that make you happy, things that you’re thankful for. We have the time to feel sad and low, so we have the time to do this.

2. When you feel down or anxious, stop and ask yourself why you feel that way. Be present and ask yourself: ‘What am I feeling in this moment? Do I feel nervous? Insecure? Use the way you’re feeling as information and take a second to figure out why you’re feeling like that.

3. Who is your team? It’s crucial that you surround yourself with people who are honest with you, who love you, who are happy in their own lives. Really take time to configure your core group. Get rid of any dead weight and only surround yourself with people you can count on. Life is a game and if you’re going to win, you need the best team.

4. Appreciate yourself. Compliment one thing about yourself a day - it doesn’t matter if it’s the freckle on your left cheek, look at it lovingly, appreciate it. Just celebrate one thing about yourself every day.

5. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Get over yourself. Silliness is a tool so phone your most fun friend, swing on the swings, dance around the house. Remind yourself that you’ve had good times before and you’ll have good times again.

6. Pay people random compliments. Tell someone you like their mask, their sweater... Who knows what that little kindness could do for somebody.

7. Do something naughty. Everyone should own a vibrator.