“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
Before I share some some guidance in finding joy, I want to illustrate the personal backdrop to this writing. For the last several years, I have adopted the (almost) daily habit of waking up early and spending time in solitude & meditation. This morning ritual centers me, reminds me to walk lightly, and motivates me to extend loving kindness to my fellow beings. Martin Buber stated, “Solitude is the place of purification”. For me, this echoes with a cacophony of truth. When I put aside time to reflect, my best self steps forward and embraces the day.
However, somewhere around November 5th I abandoned my morning ritual. You really can’t blame a gal, it was just about election time and the sun was rising later each day. At first, I was grudgingly able to push through the dark mornings. By December, I was hitting that snooze button repeatedly. Rolling over, promising myself I would get back to my morning ritual the next day. The following day was of course met with this same promise and so forth.
Slowly, gloom was creeping in to my mind. My negative thoughts began erupting, exploding, and morphing into verbalizations at high-speed rate. By Mid December, I was throwing in the towel to self-defeating behaviors. Netflix binges. Social Media splurges. Endless amounts of Cookie Dough. Couch rampages. The Holiday Season was ushering in and I was officially toxic. I had lost sight of the middle balanced path, and settled into the skins of Negative Nancy and Pity Party Paul.
With Christmas around the corner, I knew I had to make a change. I patted myself on the back for giving another round of pessimism my best shot and made a conscious decision that changes were to be made in my lifestyle. I vowed to live in a manner that encouraged joy at whatever the cost, making any alternations necessary. I declared this life choice to my family and announced I was heading off to the studio to solidify my intention. As the door closed behind me I heard my daughter say with a sigh “oh, thank god”. I am pretty sure the house rattled with relief.
About this time, I was accidentally led to a book by Swami Rama title “The Art of Joyful Living”. This book reminded me of my habits and thought patterns that decipher between the gloomed up life or the joyful one. More importantly, I was re-encouraged to take personal responsibility for my life and my well-being.
For clarification, I think it important to define “Joy”. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary Joy is:
Reading these definitions, I would like to add one more that I think truly embodies joy.
4.Joy is the feeling of well-being that emerges due to an intentional way of living that encourages positive thinking and right action.
The truth is joy must be cultivated each and every day. While I make no high claims of being in a permanent state of Joyful Johnny, the following are a few of my tips for living in a state of contentment and joy.
1. Set an Intention and Write it Down
The written word is powerful. Research conducted by Psychologist Dr. Gail Matthews found that people who put their goals on paper were 33% more likely to achieve their goals. Writing your goals and intentions down motivates you to take action, serves as a catalyst for change, and helps monitor success.
Take some time to reflect and hammer down a few personal goals to work towards. Find an overall statement that represents an intention for living. For example, it might be “ I dedicate this day to living joyfully”, “I dedicate this month to cultivating contentment”, “I am doing my best to live a joyful life today”. Take that intention and write it on a sticky note. Place in an area you will be exposed to on a daily basis (e.g. bathroom mirror; office desk). Say this intention out loud to yourself in the beginning of each day. When your thoughts become negative, breathe deeply, notice their presence, and gently remind yourself of your intention.
2. Rewire Thought Patterns. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
The average person has been estimated to think between 35 to 48 thoughts per minute. That adds up to 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day. Consequently, it has been estimated that 70-80 percent of those thoughts are negative. For those who struggling with anxiety and depression, the impact of these thoughts can be debilitating.
Being mindful is essential in beginning to identify detrimental thought patterns. Take time throughout the day to pause and check in with the present moment. Notice the quality of your thoughts with non-judgment. Just simply noticing. Often times, people may experience an uncomfortable emotion or physical sensation without really being aware of the accompanying thought patterns. When you notice uncomfortable sensations (nausea, tight chest, shrugged shoulders), ask yourself “what story was I just telling myself?”.
When I am monitoring the story telling in my mind, I find it helpful to categorize each thought on a simple scale. I can boil each story down to the compartment of
pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. From there, I can deciper if this story or thought supports my intention. If the answer is “no”, it’s time for self-care and reprograming.
This is where the beauty of the statement you created truly comes to play. Once you have identified a negative story, you can use the intention for joyful living as a replacement to that story. Notice the difference in your body and mood when you pause & remind yourself, “I am doing my best to live a joyful life” or “I vow to be self compassionate today”. Repeat this statement again. Make it your default when negative thinking arises. With practice, patience, and consistency you will rewire.
3. Make a Menu of simple acts of happiness and commit them
This is an easy step in theory, but often I find that clients have a difficult time practicing self-care. Individuals tend to become very rigid about what self-care looks like and set unreachable standards. They say to themselves, “I will work out 7 times a week” or “I will meditate for an hour each day”. Rather, we need to be honest about the time we actually have available in present day society. Generating a variety of options to choose from allows us to be flexible.
Here is an example of what a self-care menu may look like:
Go to yoga class
Call a Friend
Drink Tea out of Favorite Mug
Take a Bath
Walk Through the Neighborhood
Journal my thoughts
Meditate ( 5 mins, 10 mins, 30 mins, or an hour)
Get a Massage
Make a Healthy Meal
4. Breathe Fresh air
Our energy can become stagnate sitting at a computer all day. We slow down and go on auto-pilot, which can be a breeding ground for negative thinking and behaviors. To counteract this lifestyle, spend some time outdoors. By outdoors, I actually mean any space outside of your door that has living things such as trees, plants, and animals. Fresh air helps release serotonin, the neurotransmitter that serves as a “calming chemical”. Releasing serotonin can improve mood, promote sleep, lowers blood pressure, and decreases anxiety.
The act of smiling intentionally can signal the brain you are happy. By flexing this muscle, you can stimulate the brain and elevate mood. I’m not encouraging people to smile during intense sadness. I am a true believer in being open and communicative about the way we actually feel. However, if you have a case of the Debbie Downer’s and try flexing the zygomatic major (smile muscle). Added bonus, smile’s are contagious. You have the power to help spread happiness to your friends, family, and coworkers. (Hint: this is one of the simple acts I am talking about in #8)
6. Speak Kind Words
The old saying “If you don’t have something nice to say don’t say it all” rings true in joyful living. Observe your speech, and notice if you gossip or put others down. Ask yourself, what was my motivation? It’s ok to vent to those who are close to you. However, if your goal was to belittle someone or make yourself feel elevated find the help you need to move past this roadblock. I have found in my personal experience that gossiping is generally a sign that I don’t feel mentally well. If you notice you are in the habit of talking negatively, take a step back and reflect. You may be burned out or suffering from low self-esteem.
7. Revisit and Reset Goals Periodically
Writing your goals down promotes personal responsibility and is an accessible way to measure growth. The best feeling is when I can view past journal entries regarding goal setting, and see my progress. I find personal fulfillment from knowing I have evolved as human being. This also allows for me to see goals I didn’t nurture, and reassess if I need to put more creative energy into these parts of my life. Seeing unreached goals shouldn’t be a time of viewing self as deficient, but rather putting your life in perspective. The question is really, “what do you want to cultivate in your life”? Taking ownership of your life is empowering.
8. Reduce the Suffering of Others
Ultimately, all things are connected. Our actions not only affect those in our immediate social circle, but the vibrations can be felt worldwide. Think about it. If my boss is having a bad day, he may lose his temper and yell at me. I carry this anger, and go home and yell at my husband. My frustrated husband, then yells at his coworker. His coworker goes home and loses temper with his child. You get the picture.
We are all suffering on some level, and you can’t always see it visibly. Suffering is an inevitable part of life. By reaching out to others to help alleviate their pain, we lighten the load of the whole world.
Reducing the suffering of others can be simple. Pick up the phone and call someone who is grieving. Donate an hour of your time to a cause you are passionate about. Pick up the newspapers in your neighbors yard. Hug your children. Open the door for someone who is having physical difficulties. Pass on a kind word or a smile.
On a final note, I want to encourage you that joyful living does not mean ignoring or denying feelings of sadness, anger, pain, or grief. In fact, joyful living embraces the shadow emotions. These emotions are signs that our body, mind, and soul need care and attention. Joy could not exist without sadness. Through embracing all of our human experience and practicing self-care in our darker moments we live intentionally. Through returning to this practice again and again, we come back to that homeostatic state of well-being.