Looking for Joy in Unexpected Places (and Finding It)

January 7, 2023 Matt Brocklebank

An idea that I keep returning to with my journey toward a happier life is looking for joy in situations that aren't typically very joyful. I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "Hard work is its own reward," but what does that mean? How can something that you loathe doing be in any way rewarding? How can you look for joy there?

Looking for Joy

The New Year holiday in Japan is an excellent time to look for joy. While people all over the world are busy spending the run-up to New Year having parties and generally over-indulging, here in Japan, it is customary to end December cleaning the home to make it pristine and pure. This ritual is called "osouji," which literally means "big clean."

Last December was no different. I had a typically unexciting list of cleaning jobs that needed doing around the house and in the garden. And it was while I was cleaning the windows and wiping down the less-than-pristine window frames I found myself reciting a phrase that often pops into my mind in moments like this; "The job's a game."

Looking for Joy Manifests It in Unexpected Places

So, where did I find this joy-inspiring phrase? It was in the last place I would typically expect to find such motivationa Disney movie. The opening verse of "A Spoonful of Sugar" from the movie Mary Poppins, to be exact.1,2 I've never seen the film, but I know the song, and this part must have fixed itself in my subconscious mind.

As I repeated it to myself and wiped away the grime of 2022, I found myself smiling. Turn a tedious, dirty job into a game, and you've won half the battle. The hard work becomes the reward. The more leaves I raked up in the garden, the better it looked. That motivated me to keep going. As I did, it looked better and better. If I had put in less effort in the beginning, the results would not have been satisfying enough to inspire me to keep going.

This idea applies to any demanding situation. Earlier in December, I decided to take on several new and challenging commitments for the new year. I was worried that I had taken on more than I could manage and felt stressed throughout most of the festive season. But when I began to think of it all as a game, the pressure changed from a negative feeling to a positive one.

Each job I had given myself was just a level I had to complete to reach the next stage, just like an arcade game. If it weren't challenging, it wouldn't be any fun. And the more levels I complete, the more rewarding life becomes.

It might not seem easy at first, but try looking for joy the next time you have to do a job you don't enjoy. It could be as mundane as vacuuming your room or washing the dishes, or as formidable as taking on a new business venture or starting a new career. It could even be the decision to begin a new exercise routine or go on a diet. Whatever it is, picture your satisfaction with the final result as soon as you start. The more satisfying you make it, the more joy you will find and the greater the reward.


  1. Sherman, Robert B., & Sherman, Richard M. (1964). A Spoonful of Sugar. [Mary Poppins]. Walt Disney Records.
  2. Stevenson, R. (Director). (1964). Mary Poppins. Walt Disney Productions.

APA Reference
Brocklebank, M. (2023, January 7). Looking for Joy in Unexpected Places (and Finding It), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 16 from

Author: Matt Brocklebank

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