This might sound surprising, but sometimes joy actually scares me.
When I have a moment when I’m feeling so much joy that I can’t contain it, I sometimes feel panic starting to creep in, and I think to myself
“Watch out! That joy is going to leave and then where will you be?”
Those are the moments when I remind myself that joy is a choice. Regardless of how complicated your life is, you have the ability to choose how you react to the events and circumstances in your life. So instead of getting caught up in a negative downward spiral when I have moments when I’m feeling that “joy is going to leave,” I take a moment to breathe and center myself in the present moment and just choose joy.
Buddhism teaches that happiness is a state of mind achieved by actively cultivating wholesome mental states. In other words, we can deliberately incline our minds towards greater joy. So in those moments when I find myself doubting the lasting effect of joy, I tune into an experience of happiness from my past and actively relive the feeling of happiness.
Joy Is A State Of Mind
Joy is not measured by the number of laughs or smiles. It’s measured by the contentment of your soul. There’s a difference between happiness and joy. Ordinary happiness is conditional on your circumstances (a happy event, winning a prize or wearing a new outfit). The problem with average happiness is that it never lasts because the objects of happiness don’t last. A happy event is soon followed but a sad one. Your new outfit gets worn and faded. So we buy another outfit looking for a “happy fix.” Most of us go through life looking for things to make us happy. But our happy fix never lasts, so we keep looking.
Enlightened happiness, or Joy, is an unconditional mindset. It’s a state of mind. The Dalai Lama has said, “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” It’s what we know, not what we get, the grows pure joy. Joy comes from within, not from the objects that we can accumulate, and there are two things that we can do to expand more joy into our lives.
Any activity, when performed repetitively, changes the structure of the brain. It’s why athletes run drills and musicians practice scales. But did you know that even repeatedly imagining an activity has an impact on our neural structure? A creative visualization experiment at Harvard revealed that imagining practicing the piano significantly affected the same region of the brain as those who spent time actively playing the piano during the experience. While actively playing had a greater impact on brain structure than imaging it, both groups had been affected.
We can practice happiness. Each day, deliberately imagine yourself being happy. Picture yourself doing something you love or spending time with people you really like. Think about happy experiences from your past. Picture yourself in the situation. Just like the creative visualization exercise, by actively imagining happiness, you can encourage changes in your brain that will predispose you to more real-life joy in your daily experiences. Imagining happiness expands joy.
Memorize Happiness In Your Body
Just like a musician practices to memorize fingering patterns in their body, you can memorize happiness in your body. Whenever you’re experiencing a moment of joy – like when you’re listening to a favorite song on the radio or when your child giggles with excitement during the holidays – don’t miss it! Stop and become aware of the feelings in your body. Do you feel warmth in your chest? Does your body feel bouncy, like you have an extra spring in your step? Does your mind feel light?
By becoming aware of and focusing on that feeling for a few minutes, you consciously “memorize” the feeling. If you can develop a strong sense of memory of how joy feels in your body, you can recall it and reactivate it deliberately when you want to.
Joy Is A Gift
The Christmas season, with its focus on gift giving and objects of temporary happiness, can blind some to the real spirit of the season. Whatever your religious practice, Christmas is a time to wake up our spiritual selves. Many people find that the familiar carols and stories and movies stir an understanding of God or the Universe that proves elusive at other times of the year.
This Christmas, instead of buying presents just for the sake of buying something, why not consider gifting your time and talents or the feeling of joy that you carry in your heart.
Sometimes I struggle with happiness because I don’t think it’s fair. I feel that in some small way I’m being greedy and hogging all the happiness in the world. Even though I know that true bliss is infinite and that it’s not selfish or wrong to feel incredibly happy, it helps when I can share my joy with others.
So this Christmas, why not make joy a gift you share? Be kind to others. Smile at strangers. Radiate joy in a way that can’t be missed. Have you ever been in the presence of someone so lively and joyful that it’s left you speechless? Be that person.
Joy expands joy, and I believe that expansion of happiness is the purpose of life. Those who’ve followed me for a while, know that I often talk about letting your inner light shine. While it has a practical meaning in the world of business as you’ll read about in my soon to be released book “It’s Your Time To Shine: An Easy Breezy Guide To Becoming Aware, Embracing Change, and Taking Action, So You Can Build A Successful Lifestyle Business” it also has metaphysical significance: our inner light and joy will transform to outer energy. Just like imagining happiness invites more happiness into your life, sharing the very best of yourself brings out the very best in others. Joy is irresistible. That’s why we’re attracted to people who radiate joy.
Looking for simple ways to radiate joy?
- Express your appreciation of others instead of keeping it to yourself.
- Point out the positive in any given situation and help others shift their perspective.
- Make your smile the best outfit you put on in the morning.
- Share your laughter. Don’t worry about laughing too hard or too loud. Just laugh.
- Contribute to the joy of another by sharing freely of yourself: your gifts and talents.
Let Go Of Feeling Busy
One of the primary obstacles to joy is the feeling of being too busy. As an entrepreneur and a mom, I know all too well how intensely scheduled life can be. Between private consulting with clients, shooting a few video series, writing for the magazine, and planning photoshoots, not to mention keeping up with ballet practices for my daughter, helping with homework and planning our Christmas, it seems almost impossible to pare down my schedule. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t feel happiness, peace or even joy in the midst of all this busyness.
During intensely scheduled periods, try giving yourself mini-breaks. Take a brief moment between tasks and obligations to pause, close your eyes, breathe deeply and feel what it’s like to just step out of time for a few minutes.
Even if you’re running from meeting to meeting or jumping from task to task on your computer, stop for a few seconds before you open the door or start the next task. Close your eyes, let your body relax, take a couple of deep breaths, and then come back to yourself. You might find that even a few brief seconds several times a day will leave you feeling substantially less stressed and more capable of dealing calmly with whatever comes next.