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Plan Joy

A few years ago, I bought a can of holiday cookies which displayed this inscription: “Take time away from doing to enjoying.” Those words certainly got my attention. As an assiduous and hardworking professional living in New York City, I was resigned to the notion of doing, doing, doing, and neglectfully, limited “Joy planning.” Of course, the original message was centered around enjoying the cookies, but as a psychotherapist, I looked deeper. While I love what I “do” for a living, like many New Yorkers, my work hours exceed "fun" hours.

My initial employment after graduating was at an established mental health agency in NYC. The paperwork was endless, but I am forever grateful for the experience and training I received. Among the arsenal of paperwork was a remedial form which detailed a three-month patient treatment plan that included goals and objectives.

Below is a basic definition of what a goal and objective entail:


What you intend to achieve, which can be intangible and broad.


Measurable and specific targets to help you achieve broader goals.


A patient’s goal and objective for a depression treatment plan would look something like this: Goal​:

The patient will report the reduction or absence of a depressive mood.


The patient will report engagement in a social and interactive activity (from 0 to 2 times a week).

The objective (interactive social activities) was ​Planning Joy​!

My Joy Prescription 2 ingredients:

Social & Interactive [activity that brings you joy]


1-2 times a week


At least 1 hour (preferably)

Possible choices:

  1. Create or join an interactive social cooking class (in-person or online) with friends.

  2. Take racquetball (tennis, badminton, squash) lessons, or join a sports-related group activity.

  3. Take a dance lesson that requires partnering (East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Salsa, Ballroom).

  4. Plan a board game night.

  5. If you attend church, arrange social events, such as lunches, picnics, games, and trips.

  6. Get a walking, running or biking partner.

  7. Play virtual video games with your friends; it is also social and interactive! (I prefer in-person interaction; I guess I'm 'old-fashioned').

  8. If you play an instrument, find a partner to play with (solo is neither interactive nor social).

  9. Join a book club that meets once a week.

  10. Write your own......

Examples from media​:

  • In the movie, ​Shall We Dance,​ the protagonist seems bored and unhappy with his routine life. He loves his job and family, but something is missing. He comes across a ballroom dance studio and begins taking classes. This social and interactive activity brings joy to his life.

  • In another film, ​Julie and Julia​, Julie is stressed at work, but has a supportive relationship. She decides to change her monotonous life by embarking on a cooking journey: a ​plan​ to cook all 524 recipes of Julia Child’s 1961 book: ​Mastering the Art of French Cooking​. Her boyfriend creates an online blog for her to share her daily experiences. It becomes an interactive social exchange that brings her ​joy​ and eventually leads to having friends over for dinner.

  • On December 12, 2019, Malaysian television host, Deborah Henry, moderated a discussion between former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, and actress/producer Julia Roberts. One of the key takeaways from this talk, which focused on leadership and education, was to “Plan your Joy.” Mrs. Obama noted that just how we go about planning work, we also need to “Plan our Joy.” Such joy is “​defined differently for all​.” I agree with her personal assessment that, “In order to stay vital in my line of work, I plan joy.” Julia Roberts added, “We find joy in the simplest things,” and shared how she plays mahjong every Tuesday, with her girlfriends, where they interact and catch up with what is going on in each other's lives.

When my grandmother passed away, my heart was deeply wounded. Strangely, when I was driving to the hospital to be with her, a song, Prince Royce's “Las Cosas Pequenas” [The Little Things] kept playing in my head. Perhaps, my grandmother was trying to leave me with the advice that it’s the little things that emanate joy.

The song is in Spanish, but the essence of its translation reads:

...the little things are one "I love you" ...the little things are a hug ...the little things are one "I miss you" ...the little things ...

the way you look (at me) that teaches me how to love, ...

and the way you express yourself----

these are what transcend the mundane.

"​All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy​" is a timely proverb recorded as early as 1659! It basically means that without time off from work, a person becomes both bored and boring. In other words, take time away from doing and put it toward ​enjoying​. This might sound harsh, but remember​ that no one is responsible for your ​joy​— except you! Think about it; you are personally responsible for obtaining adequate nutrition, sleep, and exercise, so why not (above all) JOY.

Plan Joy--- it’s self-care!

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