Finding Happiness From Rock Bottom

Even in a year as tough as this one; there are still opportunities to find joy!

Remember that last bacon-wrapped filet or rosewater macaron? If you’re like most, you can almost teleport back there and taste it again. You can remember the smell in the air, the feel of the cafe. If so, you’re likely already an expert at the act of savoring things. For many of us, we associate the word “savor” with tastes and smells, but it’s actually much more than that. It’s the idea of holding on to something, committing it to memory, and stretching the positive effects over a longer time. It’s about being mindful, present, and focused on positivity. That’s why I’ve focused much of my time teaching people to savor, not just food, but … joy. 

We spend so much of our day as teachers focusing on the joy of students, that we forget that we are entitled to joy, too. 

The year before the pandemic, I was at an all-time low with my mental health. I had just finished building a mobile gaming company — and I received Inc’s 30 Under 30 award. I was blessed with two healthy children and an incredibly supportive wife. 

It was all picture perfect, but I simply wasn’t able to recognize and to savor joy. My thoughts became more intrusive by the day, and I sunk into a deep depression that almost took my life. A whirlwind eight-week partial hospitalization followed, and it saved my life. I learned how to find happiness — and along the way, I created a brand new company: Savor Lining. It offers  virtual mental fitness classes taught by licensed therapists that will help you avoid my initial fate. Here are a few things I learned. 


Under the surface, there had been a decade of unrecognized psychological trauma and depression that ended up almost taking my life. I ended up in an eight-week partial hospitalization program, where I learned a tremendous amount about mental health. In the program, I learned the skills they only teach you in intensive therapy programs, which much of the general population does not have access to. After making a full recovery and going through transformational personal growth in the process, I founded Savor Lining to help others avoid reaching the depths of where I had once found myself.

Teacher Wellness Comes First

Much like a flight attendant who reminds adults to put their oxygen masks on before helping others, prioritizing the mental health and fitness of teachers is essential for them to be at their best for themselves — and ultimately for their students. 

But it’s not happening. While teachers have consistently been on the front-lines of stress, a whopping 61% of teachers report being stressed often or always, according to a 2017 survey by the American Federation of Teachers. Those who aren’t teachers report being stressed at work only 30% of the time. This was an astonishing figure prior to COVID-19, and things have only gotten worse as a result of the pandemic.

My organization, Savor Lining, has recently partnered with multiple proactive and forward-thinking, teacher-focused organizations and businesses looking to invest in their workforce’s mental fitness as a foundation for success. The challenges teachers face in today’s environment are immense, ranging from the anxiety and stress from both in-person and virtual learning, along with the grief of having the school year not go as originally planned. 

Why Joy?

Joy, Fear, Anger, Sadness, and Disgust. 

Beyond serving as the main characters in Disney Pixar’s animated film “Inside Out,” these five emotions — along with Surprise — were cited in the 1970s by psychologist Paul Eckman as the six basic emotions experienced in all human cultures. 

Joy is a cornerstone of mental fitness because without it, we’re left with fear, anger, sadness, and disgust.

Mental fitness, then, can be defined as a measure of the mind’s ability to function effectively in work and leisure — the ability to be optimistic, resilient, and to recognize … joy. 

Joy helps us to balance out all of these typically negative emotions, so let’s do the hard but fun work of learning how to cultivate it.

What is Joy?

Dive in a bit further and find that joy is pretty simple to talk about, but really complicated to understand and experience. It’s a powerful emotion with part contentment, part confidence, and part hope. But what makes it different than, say, happiness?

“An easy way to differentiate the two is to remember that joy is an emotion, and happiness is subjective,” says Ashlei Lien, the clinical founding instructor at Savor Lining. “What matters in determining happiness is that person’s perception of the world and the things that can trigger happiness, which could be different for everyone.”

As opposed to happiness, joy is cultivated internally.

Once you are at peace internally, you will feel joy. Happiness, on the other hand, is triggered by people, things, places, and thoughts.

Another way of thinking about the differences between joy and happiness shared by Psychologies magazine is that “Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are, and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts, and events.”

Joy and happiness go hand-in-hand, and increasing joy can lead to more happiness in your life. The most mentally fit individuals are putting their happiness first and identifying ways to balance responsibilities in life with joy. 

Find Your Joy

Incorporate a new joy-savoring habit to your day. It’ll take no more than two minutes each day and can be done anywhere. It’s all about developing new habits. 

By definition, habits are repeated, nearly automatic decisions that are triggered by contextual cues. Contextual cues such as a time or place can be so powerful that we don’t even realize sometimes when we are doing something habitual, we just do it. An example of a simple habit I wasn’t always aware of is that as soon as I get in my car, before I do anything else, I’ll put on my seatbelt because of the contextual cue of getting into a car and preparing to drive. We all have different habits, but it’s the contextual cues that power them all.

Commit to doing this exercise for two minutes every day for the next week, and schedule it around a contextual cue so that it can more easily be developed into a habit. For example, morning meetings always start with a brief moment of joy. No one has to remind us to do it since we all know it doesn’t feel right to start our meetings without it. 

Giving your full attention helps to rewire the mind by focusing on the words and emotions your thoughts bring up.

Try it on.

  • Focus on a memory from the past 24 hours that brought you some joy, delight, pleasure, or happiness. 
  • Focus on that memory. Perhaps you recall the details of what you saw or heard and how it made you feel in that moment. Close your eyes and picture this moment in your mind’s eye for a few more seconds before continuing on. 
  • Ask yourself, “How did this moment of joy focus your attention on the memory? How did it feel when paying attention to the details you noticed about the situation you recalled?”
  • Write down the memory in a few sentences in the space provided for today, and repeat this exercise for the next seven days. 
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