7 ways to reclaim your joy if you had an unhappy childhood

Do you ever see kids running carefree in the park, playing with their siblings, or eating ice cream with their family and think “Wow! I wish my childhood was so joyful and carefree.”

Unfortunately, you didn’t have such a happy childhood and you feel like you’ve missed out on a lot of joy that your younger self deserved. 

Does that resonate with you? 

Firstly, I’m sorry your childhood wasn’t as happy and carefree as you deserved it to be but you’re not a child anymore. It’s time to stop suffering and missing out because of the past and reclaim some of that joy. 

As someone who firmly believes that playfulness, freedom, and child-like joy don’t have to end when childhood does, I’m obsessed with finding ways to bring these things out in adult life.

And today, I’m sharing 7 ways to reclaim joy if you had an unhappy childhood. 

Let’s get started. 

1) Live in the moment

We’ve all heard that we should “be present” and “live in the moment”, right? But what does that mean? 

As adults, we overthink everything. We replay old conversations in our heads, wondering how we came across. We worry about the big work presentation we have next week. It’s endless.

Living in the moment is about letting all of that go and focusing on right now.

Kids are great at living in the moment.

Have you ever seen a two-year-old splash in a puddle? Is he thinking about the consequences, like that his shoes will be ruined and he’ll be cold and wet? No, he’s just present, enjoying splashing in that puddle. We could all take a leaf from his book. 

Living in the moment more is one of the ways you can reclaim your joy in adulthood. It’s not easy at first but there are a few habits you can develop that help, including:

  • Start journaling, write down your thoughts to get out of your own head 
  • Be more intentional with your breathing, and try meditating to stay in the moment 
  • Be thankful and show gratitude every day to remind yourself what you’ve got

An unhappy childhood doesn’t have to mean a life without joy, practice living in the moment more and get ready to reclaim your joy. 

2) Don’t take life too seriously 

Let’s be honest, we all take life a little too seriously, right?

A lot of us try to look professional at work, we present the polished version of ourselves to our in-laws and we stay composed and proper in all aspects of our lives. 

Whatever happened to letting your hair down and not taking life so seriously? 

Here’s the thing: life is what you make it. If you choose to present the tame and boring version of yourself to everyone, then guess what? You’ll have a tame and boring life. Where’s the fun in that?

If you choose not to take yourself or your life too seriously, then you’ll have a more colorful and joy-filled life.

The key is to stop worrying about what other people think. Why is everyone so afraid to look silly in front of people?

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, isn’t scared to look silly and even credits it for her success. She has a refreshing approach, admitting in interviews that she purposely seeks out opportunities to embarrass herself because by doing so, the fear of looking silly, loses its power over her.  

When you stop taking life too seriously, you realize there are little moments of joy and laughter all around, just waiting for you to reclaim them. 

3) Get outside in nature more 

How much time do you spend outdoors in nature each week? 

One of the easiest ways that you can start to reclaim your joy, even if you had an unhappy childhood is to get outside in nature more.

And no, I’m not talking about simply walking to work between some skyscrapers, you’ve got to spend time with Mother Nature in some green space.

For years now health experts have been telling us to get outside more if we want to be happier and healthier. One recent study even suggests that we only need to spend 2 hours per week in green space to enjoy health and well-being benefits.

And here’s the kicker: you can make that time up however you want.

You can spend 2 hours on a Saturday afternoon, knocking it out in one session or you can spend a few minutes each day. Whatever works for your schedule but there’s no excuse for not getting it done. 

Get in the habit of spending more time in nature and soon you’ll feel joy like never before. 

pic 02.02.02 kids playing soccer 7 ways to reclaim your joy if you had an unhappy childhood

4) Spend time with children

There’s really no greater way to experience the joy of childhood than to spend time with happy and carefree children. Do you have any children in your life? 

Don’t worry if you don’t have kids yourself, maybe you’ve got some nieces or nephews that you could hang out with. Or what about some friends or neighbors? You could even consider volunteering at the local youth club. 

I’ve been able to experience the joy of spending time with children in recent years because lots of my friends have kids now and my partner has nieces and nephews. Spending time with them creates a child-like joy and innocence that’s hard to find anywhere else in adult life.

And I know what you might be thinking, “I don’t like kids, why would I want to spend time with them”. I hear you. I felt the same but I promise you, there’s no joy quite like running through the park after a 4-year-old, pretending to be a dinosaur. 

Spending time with children is an incredible way to reclaim your joy in adulthood and allow you to feel the simple innocence that only young people possess. 

5) Prioritize play and make it easy

As adults we tend to overcomplicate things, right?

We overthink, we justify, we create processes for everything. It’s like we struggle to do things just for fun. And that’s what play is all about. 

“One way to think about play is an action you do that brings you a significant amount of joy without offering a specific result” suggests positive play coach, Jeff Harry. It means “taking a bike ride because it’s fun, not because you’re trying to lose 5lbs” as noted by New York Times

Play is about nothing more than joy and happiness. There’s no goal, no desired result, just fun. And maybe this sounds pointless? But it’s far from it. 

Adult play has numerous benefits, including helping you to manage your stress and improving health and well-being. A 2013 study even suggests that playfulness is linked with well-being and life satisfaction. Playing helps us to be happier, even as adults.

Play is an important way to help you reclaim joy in your adult life so prioritize it and make it easy for yourself by keeping games, art supplies, and puzzles in your home.

Why not make a habit of doing game nights with friends and family? 

6) Find your play personality

You know how kids seem to naturally gravitate towards the things they enjoy? Some of them like dressing up, some like sports, and others like puzzles. 

Everyone is naturally drawn to certain types of play and everyone’s got a play personality. Be cause your childhood wasn’t a happy one, there’s a chance you never got to discover what your play personality is. 

But don’t worry, you can figure it out now. 

Dr. Stuart Brown, researcher and founder of The National Institute for Play, has identified eight “play personalities” that can help you find out what kinds of play work best for you. 

If you’re a storyteller, you might find joy in journaling or creative writing. Or as an artist/creator, you might realize you love painting, sewing, or woodwork. 

By finding your play personality as an adult, you’ll be able to find activities that you enjoy and allow you to play, reconnecting you to the joy you missed out on as a child. 

7) Learn new things

Another great way to reclaim joy is to learn new things. Is there anything that you’d like to learn,  just for fun? 

Maybe it’s learning a language, or how to play an instrument, whatever it is that you feel drawn to, learn something new that is just for you and just for fun. You won’t believe how much joy it’ll bring. 

I was lucky enough to experience the joy of learning something new recently. I always thought it’d be cool to learn to ride a motorcycle. There was no practical reason for it. 

I didn’t need it to get to work, I wasn’t planning to race or compete. People thought I was crazy and didn’t think ‘it’d be cool’ was a good enough reason to do it. But it was for me. I did the lessons, learned the skill and now I’m a fully licensed motorcyclist and I love it. 

What would you like to learn but you just haven’t gotten around to it yet?

Wrapping up

There you have it, 7 ways to reclaim your joy, despite your unhappy childhood.

Which one are you going to try out first? 

Picture of Cat Harper

Cat Harper

Cat is an experienced Sales and Enablement professional turned writer whose passions span from psychology and relationships to continuous self-improvement, lifelong learning and pushing back on societal expectations to forge a life she loves. An avid traveler and adventure sports enthusiast, in her downtime you'll find Cat snowboarding, motorcycling or working on her latest self-development project.

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