Create Joy All Year Long

Bring joy to others, and the person who benefits most might just be you.

By Erin Skillen

Part of the magic of the holidays is the celebration of joy and the focus it brings to our connections with others. So, if we’re living in a tough time full of hard things we can’t control, what would happen if we created joy all year, and not just during the holidays? YAM explores the science behind joy and talks with three local creators about intentionally creating these positive energy bursts year round, improving our own health along the way.

Joy can make us happier. There is some discussion around the difference between happiness and joy, but the consensus is that joy is a moment, an emotional response that can exist with or without happiness. Meanwhile, happiness is a longer term pattern of emotion that occurs over time and includes joy within it. You can experience joy without being happy, but it’s hard to be happy without at least some joy. The more joy we have in our lives, the more likely we are to be happy.

Joy can make us healthier. When we experience a joyful moment, our brain releases our natural happiness chemicals, dopamine and serotonin, which benefits both our mind and our body. The circulatory and nervous systems respond with an increased heart rate, flushed cheeks or happy tears, which can improve sleeping, eating and digestion. And we don’t have to sit around waiting for someone else to create an act of joy for us to reap these benefits. Studies show that doing kind and thoughtful gestures for others is more physically and psychologically rewarding than receiving them yourself.

These three know just how to bring joy to life: Justin Love makes music with light. Kristi Nelson finds happiness lurking under a rock. And Clementine Hiltner thinks we should all pet a puppy, STAT.

CEO, Limbic Media

While you may not have heard of local company Limbic Media, chances are you’ve seen — or even enjoyed — some of their work. They created the well-known Singing Tree at The Butchart Gardens, which is decorated with lights that interact with people singing, clapping or playing instruments. When it was first set up, Limbic CEO Justin Love brought a friend to film it in use, expecting that no one else would be playing with the tree. He was delighted to be wrong. “Time after time, people came up and started belting out songs, and it just blew my mind how people actually engaged with it the way that we imagined,” he says. “It didn’t take much encouragement.”

Visitors to The Butchart Gardens play along in delight as the Singing Tree responds to music. Photo: Dave Wallace.

Two of their joy-inducing projects live in an unexpected location — the Canadian Tire store at Hillside Centre. “I had this 60-foot panel of glass on the outside,” says store owner Justin Young. “I’d walk in every day and I’d go, ‘You know what, this is boring. It’s a nice piece of glass canvas. Let’s do something with it.’” Now, when the sun goes down, the store’s facade bursts into pulsating lights. Its success led to a second collaboration, a “light curtain” cascading from the second floor to the first, with a control panel in the kids’ department available for anyone to become a lighting designer playing with colour, patterns and more.

Whether you’re using a screen or your voice to interact with light and sound, science shows that these installations are a powerful physiological experience. “There’s been tons of research where the more senses that you combine simultaneously, the more powerful emotional impact you have,” says Love. “They have this extra power about them because it touches us at a cellular level.”

Love and his Limbic team are inspired in part by the emotional response to their interactive art, which motivates them to keep creating and innovating new experiences for people to enjoy where they least expect them. “I think we do bring a lot of joy and delight and magic into the world,” says Love.

President, Pacific Animal Therapy Society

The physical and mental health benefits of interacting with animals are immense, but a side effect of a tight rental market is that many animal lovers can’t find pet-friendly housing. Meanwhile, many others can’t care for their own pets for other reasons. The Pacific Animal Therapy Society (PATS) was created to make pets more available to those who need them most.

Photo: Christina Craft

PATS is a volunteer-run organization focused on “pets visiting people.” President Clementine Hiltner first got involved as a volunteer for one-on-one sessions. She was matched with a young woman who was coping with depression and anxiety. Each week they would get together, go for walks or just talk while petting the dog.
“I just noticed, despite the energy required to plan those visits, after those visits, rather than feeling depleted or more tired, I felt more energized and more joyful,” says Hiltner.

PATS provides therapy animals to the University of Victoria’s Pet Café, a weekly drop-in for stressed-out students to relax with some soothing pet cuddles. PATS also has an elementary school program where dogs come into the classroom for kids who read to them — research has shown that kids who are having challenges with reading are able to improve their skills faster by reading to a calming listener who won’t judge them.

Hiltner is busy with her day job at the BC Wildfire Service but makes time for PATS because of the good it does for everyone involved. “People light up. They drop any formality and they drop any judgment, and they just can be themselves,” she says. “I think animals just make us better, and they make us want to be better.”

She’s also passionate about getting more pet owners involved in pet therapy. “In a city like Victoria with such an aging population, there are so many lonely seniors. Bringing your pet to somebody for an hour a week could just mean everything to them. It could be their whole life,” Hiltner says. “It will surprise you that I think you get as much out of it as that client would get out of it. That’s what’s amazing. It just makes your world a bigger place.”

Founder, Sooke to Sidney Rock Hunt

Kristi Nelson started the Sooke to Sidney Rock Hunt after experiencing a similar hunt in Vancouver, Washington. The concept is simple: Paint a rock, inscribe “SS Rock Hunt” on the bottom, use a sealant to cover all the paint and then hide it. When someone finds the rock, they can post a photo of it in the Sooke to Sidney Rock Hunt group on Facebook and then either keep the rock or rehide it. Since starting the hunt in 2016, Nelson and her team of admins have built a community of over 12,500 members.

Photo: Jeffrey Bosdet

The hunt attracts a broad range of rock artists from professional painters creating intricate works to toddlers experimenting for the first time. The Facebook page is a riot of colour featuring clusters of rocks on the cusp of being hidden and many happy finders proudly holding their discoveries. “People love when their rocks are posted as found, and especially if there’s a story, or if it’s a little kid who just gets so much joy from finding a rock,” says Nelson. “I think it’s always fun to know that you might put a smile on somebody’s face with one of your creations.”

Photo: Jeffrey Bosdet

In addition to being a fun, low-cost and family-friendly activity, the SS Rock Hunt has also led to work opportunities. “Some of our members have started businesses through this and are providing for their families with things like commissioned rocks and painting classes,” Nelson says. “That is amazing to me.”

To prevent tension around the environmental impact of the hunt, the admins provide information to guide members on being respectful hiders and finders. Going off trail, not sealing rocks (without it, the paint can come off and pollute) and hiding them in delicate ecological areas are all discouraged, as is hiding any rocks on private property.

Overall, the hunt has been extremely well-received, and Nelson loves hearing stories about its emotional impact. “They’re going through a really bad day, a really hard time in life, and they come across this rock, and it just means so much to them. Maybe it has something on it, an image that really resonates with them. It becomes really personal for them.”


There’s beauty in finding ways to inject extraordinary moments into the everyday, in creating connections with others when they least expect it and may need it the most. Many intentional acts of joy don’t cost a cent — just the investment of some thought, time and energy. Best of all, bringing joy to others is a positive practice that fills your own emotional bucket, too. Here are some easy ways to create joy:

• Email a friend or family member photos of you together, with a heartfelt note explaining why you chose them.
• Buy used copies of your favourite books to share in little free libraries.
• Handwrite and mail affectionate cards to friends and family, no special occasion needed.
• Compliment strangers; just take care to be selective and authentic.
• Take a moment to text or DM your friends thoughtful memes, GIFs or quotes that remind you of them.
• Create a magical fairyland for your neighbours to enjoy by hanging string lights around your home.
• If someone you know is struggling, send them a surprise gift card for a favourite local restaurant or store — that way, you can support both the business and your friend.

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