Speaking of Joy!
I am truly blessed with an amazing job! I help people who want to build a bridge back to their hearts and sprinkle miracle grow on their compassionate minds – and I love it! In order to do this job I am compelled and urged forward in my own growth, to do my own inner transformation work. I shared this truth with a new client the other day and it seemed it was a bit of a surprise for her to hear….I guess, for whatever reason, she didn’t imagine that I have practices and work to do to support me in leaning into discomfort and joy…it was a sweet moment for me of connecting to our common longing for a life filled with peace and happiness, and an acknowledgment of the action I put in in order to experience this in my life.
One of the things I have been exploring recently is what are those actions I put in? What are the practices I have built into my life that really support me to be able to appreciate and rest in joy?
Experiencing deep joy is both wonderful and scary. As Brené Brown says, “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience, and if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.”
I have often experienced the quiet, subtle creep of negative thinking that comes just after a moment of bliss and happiness. Thoughts such as:
· It can’t last.
· That’s as much good luck as I deserve.
· I really don’t deserve this, especially when so and so is unhappy.
· No one should be this happy!
· I mustn’t enjoy this too much or I will miss it more when it’s gone.
· And a thousand variations on these themes!
Oh let me count the ways of getting myself ready for the fall, of protecting myself from the inevitable crash and loss of joy! I have a lifetimes worth of shields that really get in the way of fully enjoying the moment now. I notice that when I think like this, I often don’t even dare to appreciate all that is good and enriching right now. What a waste!
“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” – Marianne Williamson
I believe it is a deeply ingrained habit to turn away from joy. It seems to be almost automatic that we protect ourselves from pain by skipping over the wonders and pleasures and keeping our senses attuned to the worries and hurts of life instead. Rick Hanson, author of Budha’s Brain would say that this is to do with the negativity bias in our brains. The tendency left over from when we were cave men and our lives were in daily danger, to look out for bears before berries and to be hyper vigilant for what might be about to eat us!
This negativity bias really prevents us from celebrating, expanding and deepening into blissful experiences in ways that prolong and let joy take root.
So what can we do?
If you want to be able to really experience deep joy, perhaps even learn how to experience it when things are not going well, and certainly to be nourished by it, then you need to have practices that you consciously engage in – daily!
Some of the practices I enjoy and that have increased my happiness and contentment levels are below:
- Journaling – There are lots of studies showing the health (both physical and emotional) benefits of journaling. I write down my thoughts, feelings, upsets, judgments, fears, as well as all my ideas, hopes, desires, celebrations and gratitude. Gratitude diaries are really marvelous things, but the parts of you that are afraid to be joyful also need to be heard. Write it all out and breathe in the peace!
- Celebrate – Tell people what you are joyful for. When someone asks how you are, instead of saying ‘fine,’ tell them something wonderful that you are grateful for or that you are enjoying right now. Of course if you are not ‘fine’ I don’t advocate pretending and riding roughshod over your feelings, however I do suggest daily looking for something to celebrate or be grateful for (see above) and sharing that out loud if possible.
- Think bigger – Take the joy you feel and allow yourself to dream it bigger and even more bountiful. Write down what you desire and allow yourself to FEEL the excitement and pleasure of your dreams becoming reality. Make a vision board or any other creative method for helping you to access the joyful feelings related to your beautiful dreams.
- Take regular mindfulness gratitude breaks – these can be any time and any place. In fact if you can play with this practice in a variety of situations and environments it can increase your ability to experience joy randomly and for no apparent reason! Consciously expand the body sensations of joyful appreciation while allowing your eyes to rest on things and experiences that touch you in some way. Yesterday I did this in the Post Office queue. I noticed the two girls behind the counter sharing a joke and I allowed myself to take pleasure in their joyful bursts of laughter. Appreciating the bliss for me and for them, I could physically feel the change in my body as my insides started to smile with them!
- Share appreciations with others – Tell someone what you love about them and what they contribute to your life. Try telling them exactly how you feel and what needs of yours are met through their actions, presence or words. Notice the impact of sharing this appreciation on them and on you. Watch this super little experiment for proof of how sharing your gratitude of others can increase your happiness and well-being. The Science of Happiness – An Experiment in Gratitude – YouTube
- And for a shot of super powered bonus juice – ask someone to share an appreciation of you! – Now this can be a bit of a challenge to get going with, however it is a super juicy way to get feedback and a sense of how you are contributing to others. As a beginner I recommend asking someone you trust and have a good relationship with. Ask them to be specific about what they feel and what values of theirs your words or actions resonate with.
If you are serious about being happier and experiencing more joy, I recommend a minimum of three a day of these practices; in whatever combination you enjoy most. But remember, a practice is something you do not something you think about!
And finally I want to share a warning – doing these practices daily can make your face light up with a smile in the street, or the post office for no apparent reason!