I’ll be interviewing James Baraz in the not-too-distant future, but I thought the topic that he writes about his latest book Awakening Joy: 10 Steps That Will Put You on the Road to Real Happiness is pertinent enough to let you know about it now rather than later so you don’t have to wait to know about it. I have people that come into my practice all the time that lament about losing their sense of “joy” in life. So how do we cultivate more joy in our lives?
The practice is one that takes some audacity and intention. Why audacity? Because we live in a culture that seems to focus on distress so often and feel there is an unworthiness for experiencing joy. If you’re not feeling particularly well, you may have had the experience of feeling aversion to those who were expressing joy at the time. A voice might have crept up, “If only he was feeling a little lower, then I’d be happy.” This is nothing to be ashamed of, it happens quite automatically because it reminds us that we aren’t experiencing the joy we’d like.
In order to actively cultivate joy, we need to first practice being present. In a past interview with Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain he told us about ways to “incline the mind toward the good.” I developed a national research program about cultivating sacred moments in daily life for stress reduction and well-being. All of these are based on being present first. Why?
Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl says it best:
“Between Stimulus and response, there’s a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
We need to be able to recognize that space so we can choose to get out of our habitual cycles of potential negative rumination and realize we have a choice and that choice may be to practice ways to awaken joy in our lives or incline our minds toward the good. This is not to ignore the difficulties in our lives, but just to help correct the automatic negativity bias that’s neurologically built in as a survival mechanism.
But, we want to do more than survive, we want to live well.
“We often think if only life were a little different—better, easier, more comfortable, more in my favor—then I could feel joy. We hold our joy out there like a carrot on a stick, saying, ‘When I get through this conflict with my boss or my mother, then maybe I’ll have a moment of joy, or when I get past my depression, my despair, my loneliness…’ But the potential for joy is always present, and the key to accessing it is saying ‘Yes’ to whatever is true in this moment, whether or not we like what’s going on or expect it.
“This of something in your life that you’re not too happy about—perhaps a conflict, a health issue, something you wish hadn’t appeared at all. Without any judgment, notice your first reaction. Then try saying ‘Yes’ to this situation. Notice what happens inside you as you do this. What you’re experiencing may not be what you wanted or expected, but saying yes can empower you and give you the courage to handle whatever rests on your plate.”
What gives you joy or holds you back from joy? Please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.