Researchers have identified several movements like this that are recognizable in many cultures as inspired by joy: raise arms; swaying from side to side, like spectators lost in the music; other rhythmic movements, such as bouncing to a beat; or take up more space, like dancers spinning with outstretched arms. These physical actions don’t just express a feeling of joy — research shows they can elicit it, too.
When people in several small studies were asked to perform these types of movements, they reported more positive emotions. And opposite actions, such as sinking and shrinking, evoked sadness and fear. Another small study suggested that the effects of so-called joy moves are stronger when you can see someone else doing the moves, in part because happiness is contagious.
The resulting eight-and-a-half-minute Joy Workout lets you experience these effects for yourself. It guides you through six moves of joy: reaching, swinging, bouncing, shaking, jumping for joy, and one I named “celebrating” that looks like throwing confetti in the air. I based these moves on research and what moves produce the most joy in my classes, among people of all ages and abilities. You should do the movements in any way that feels good to you – as big or as small and as fast or as slow as you want. If a move doesn’t feel right, repeat a previous one or make up your own, moving in a way that feels joyful, powerful, playful, or graceful. The video shows a standing workout, but you can also try it seated.
We added a soundtrack aimed at reinforcing positive emotions. You will hear rhythmic songs in a major key, with a powerful rhythm. If you have other favorite music that makes you happy, you can turn off the video and play it instead.
The Joy Workout is just a way to lift your spirits through movement. Consider this video an experience and an invitation to find your own joy in movement. There are many other science-based ways to improve your mood through exercise:
Travel with other people, in a class or training group, or informally, with friends or family.
Switch to music, either through traditional exercises like jogging or cycling, or anything that gets your body moving, like air guitar, drums, or karaoke.
Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist, lecturer at Stanford University, and author of The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage. She is a certified group fitness instructor who has been leading movement classes for over twenty years.