Cultivating Joie de Vivre

Bryon Powell looks at where he can cultivate more joie de vivre in his life.

By on March 8, 2023 | Comments

Joie de vivre. A delight in being alive. A buoyant enjoyment of life. Exultation of spirit. English-language dictionaries bounce around what this French phrase means, but that jumping around might be an inherent aspect of the phrase. Whatever constellation of phrases we translate it as it’s a beautiful thing. For me, I conjure up the phrase as a “spark or glimmer in the eye,” and I think it’s when and where I’m at my very best. I trust that many of those who know me best would agree.

One wouldn’t expect to express joie de vivre (JDV) all the time, but one can hope for more of it. I know I hope for more of it. But hope doesn’t often mean more than a hill of beans. Might JDV be cultivated, or more space made for it? Again, I hope so, and while this is all off-the-cuff thinking rather than expert advice, it might help spark a little joy, if only for one of us.

Bryon Powell - Bhutan

Finding joy in the rare airs of Bhutan. Photo: iRunFar/Ian Sharman

Creating Temporal Space

While it might not take much time to switch into JDV, it’s a whole lot less likely to spring forth if one is non-stop gogogo with menial tasks and daily chores of most sorts. One need not be on a multi-week vacation or a yearlong sabbatical to experience JDV. Not at all. If a run, a social gathering, or some quality time with your loved ones leads you toward JDV, then be sure to make that time!

Creating Emotional Space

Personally, I’m far less likely to express JDV when I’m depressed, brooding, beaten down, or exhausted. To create lots of space for JDV, I know that I have to change some major aspects of my life that act as wet blankets on my emotions. Yes, I still find JDV from time to time, but it’s limited by negative emotion-creating environments that I continue to live with.

I, too, need to more actively let go of other nagging thoughts and accept unpleasant uncertainties. This can be dirty work or as simple as thinking, “I have no need for you,” when such thoughts come up. Either way, I (and we?) need to do this.

Tuktuk in Bangkok

Joy in good company in the back of a tuk-tuk.

Creating Opportunities

Goodness. How can I be nearly 45 years old and still act like a passive participant in so much of my life? While I’ve done something similar before, AJW’s better half, Shelly, recently encouraged me to brainstorm a list of things that energize me. Not all of them bring me into the JDV realm, but some certainly bring me closer, while a few more or less guarantee it.

Hmm. What if I could organize more of life and make more of the decisions that point me down the path toward energizing moments and JDV? I don’t only think that it’s possible but likely that each of us can do this.

While entirely ridiculous, on my least motivated, longest days at the desk, I’ll often go out running in jeans and flannel or whatever I’m wearing at the moment. I double create opportunities for JDV to spring forth by creating the time to go outside and move for 10 or 20, or 30 minutes, while the inherent goofiness of it can trigger a spark of joy that lifts my spirits.

Letting joy happen on a jeans run

Getting out for a jeans run can still let the joy shine in.

Some of My Paths to Joie de Vivre

A few things that bring me JDV:

  • A deep or meaningful conversation about life.
  • A day that ends with me tired and dirty, whether from a day’s long run, a few loads of firewood collecting, or a bunch of yard work.
  • Being in a locals’ moment when traveling.
  • Running into a fishing spot that’d normally be a multi-day backpack.
  • Seeing Meghan authentically smile and laugh.
  • Running around a playground with kids.
  • Helping someone with financial advice.
  • Those moments when a sunset, an animal, a view, or an artifact stops me mid-run to marvel at the world around me.

Call for Comments

  • What does joie de vivre mean to you?
  • How do you express JDV?
  • How do you cultivate JDV?
Meghan Hicks and Junebug - Eastern Sierra Nevada

Meghan expressing contagious JDV many years ago.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.