10 ideas to spark joy in quarantine

1. Count your blessings.

A page of gratitude from my journal.

Studies show that gratitude is the key to happiness, or rather contentment. There is a lot to grieve over right now and that is important, too. But if you consistently take the time to truly appreciate what you have, your worldview will start to change. It takes intention to generate joy within yourself, especially when isolation, sadness, tiredness and boredom conflict with that. I personally try to pray and journal every day. On a slow day, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am loved and living my one and only life.

2. Share the love with others.

The notes were much nicer and also in a plastic bags, because sanitation is important.

While self-affirmation is important, it is equally rewarding to share your appreciation for someone else. The act of writing a letter or text or email, or making a phone are all underrated ways to simultaneously express and generate gratitude. 

Plan a random act of kindness. If you’ve stocked up or ordered extra toilet paper, paper towels, foodstuffs or face masks, leave a gift and note to some of your neighbors. When my mom and I delivered toilet paper rolls to eight of the apartments on our floor, more than half responded back with gifts in kind, and we had never even talked to most of these people! When you make a habit of generosity, you start to get more than you could ask for in return.

3. Make weird food and drink combinations.

Few things are more satisfying than trying something new in the kitchen, even if it doesn’t turn out perfect. A basic quarantine idea would be to try a new baking recipe or to cook at home more instead of relying solely on delivery services. These are wholesome and healthful ideas. But we are now several weeks into quarantine, so it’s time to get a little more extra creative. 

It’s really up to you to determine what your taste buds can handle. Some of my (questionable) experiments have now become routine staples:

Mild salsa + Louisiana hot + peach or apricot jam = satisfying, sweet & salty salsa

Mini bagel + raspberry jam + salami = a breakfast yum yum

Barely edible 200 calorie Halo Top + ultra-rich Ben & Jerry’s = ice cream sensations in moderation. 

One of my favorite and more rational combinations.

Experiment with the spices in your pantry, mix tea bags or whip out the blender if you have one.  It might turn out terrible, like my smoothie with bourbon ice cream, watermelon and smokehouse almonds, or it could be delicious, like coconut almond milk and cinnamon. If you are of age, experiment (safely) with alcohol. Though I am underage, my mother sometimes mixes liquor with orange juice for me at the end of a long day.

4. Make TikToks for YOU with YOUR sense of humor.

The great thing (but also bad) about TikTok and social media in general is its highly convenient. You don’t have to wait to turn on your phone and make a video. Spontaneous creation can be a joyful release to break up the monotony of life. 

I strongly advocate approaching social media without caring how you’ll be perceived.  Though it may sound counterintuitive, a big dose of “this is for me and I could care less about other people’s opinions of me,” is a powerful and iconic energy to emit. You don’t have to worry about whether you made something impressive enough if you’ve already knocked your own socks off.

5. Dance!

Dancing is freeing and for everyone, and that’s period! There’s no right or wrong way to dance, because you just feel and move. You have everything you need already within you, but dance tutorials, classes, and cardio workouts could inspire new ways to move your body. The sidewalk is your soul train line, the carpet in your living room the disco. Dancing can feel uncomfortable at first, but the longer you do it and the more you experiment, the more cathartic it becomes.

6. FaceTime karaoke…or karaoke alone without music because you’re supalonely.

Have you ever said “I cannot sing” or “I don’t sing”?  That doesn’t mean you can’t try anyway! Whether alone in your room or the shower, singing or rapping a whole song feels powerful, like  filling that hole in your heart with music, freedom and love. Why not share that breathiness you get from trying to sing and dance at the same time with another person? The lag makes it funnier. 

Or, you could go outside when nobody is around and sing a song at whatever volume. There’s just you and the music, so ride the vibe off into the sunset. 

7. Observe world up close to see our beautiful common humanity.

If you have a face mask and can properly social distance, going outside can provide a much-needed release. People-watching and open-minded observation can bring simple, subtle joy. Just seeing a dog makes me smile internally. The most mundane human interactions are beautiful: clumps of friends or family in overlapping conversations, toddlers carelessly zigzagging into other people’s six-foot safety zones; couples jogging side by side or strolling lazily arm in arm. And then some moments hit deeper for no reason, like when you watch a parent embrace their child, and it reminds you of what you must have been like when you were younger, even though you can’t quite remember how it was. 

8. Read or watch something uplifting.

Of course, there are humanity appreciation posts and mood boosters all across the internet, and those can be plenty effective too. They can lift both mood and soul, giving you a joyous memory or new perspective to carry with you. Watch an inspirational film like Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (the acclaimed documentary about Mister Rogers), Remember the Titans, or Paddington. If you want both instant gratification and deep uplift, check out a music video or Saturday Night Live skit, or social media post that never fails to make you smile or happy cry — like this classic video of a very small boy playing the ukulele and singing I’m Yours or Seth Myers and Rihanna going day drinking.

9. Be an artist!

Williams, Camille. Cornbread crumb Africa. 2020. Breadcrumb on napkin. 6 in x 6 in.

If you do the thing, you are the thing. Now is the perfect time to make your own gallery of contemporary art. Some craft stores are still open, but it’s just as much fun using what you have. You can edit photos from your phone on Picsart or weird cuts, where you can make collages and assemblages in AR space. The Adobe package is free for Northwestern students and we have access to all types of free tutorials through LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda). A fun idea for both paper and digital media is word art or word clouds. You can also take things from your kitchen and arrange them into landscapes, faces, scenes or pure abstraction. There is a whole form of art where the artist pastes down objects and paper pieces exactly where they fall, or chooses paints and media randomly. Don’t forget to record and admire whatever you made, because you are a creative genius after all. 

10. Recreate happy childhood vibes.

Brainstorm a list of all your favorite books, movies, shows, songs, snacks and activities from your childhood. What card games, computer games or video games did you play non-stop after school? If that doesn’t immediately make you feel warm and nostalgic, queue up some Fairly Odd Parents, The Magic School Bus, That’s So Raven, Proud Family–the list goes on. Look up the lyrics to theme songs and then keep singing the wrong words! Rock out to 2000s R&B or or gawk how bad KIDZBOP actually was. Listen to your favorite childhood stories as audio books. Then take out the goldfish and apple juice, and draw intricate stick-figure doodles during your Zoom lectures. 


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