It’s the season of office parties, family vacations and too many selfies popping up on Instagram and your facebook page. It sometimes feels as if everyone else is in a better place and having more fun. Many find themselves feeling down, unsettled, and battling a touch of the blues.
What can we do to find our personal joy?
Joy is not the same as fun. You can spend the day having a great time in the city with friends but when you walk through your door, you are not feeling joy. Or you can search spa finder, book the most lux treatments and then partake in gourmet meals but somehow a void remains. At the end of the day joyfulness eludes you.
Inner joy, genuine “I-feel-good-about-my-life” emotions takes work. It requires creating a positive inner core which can be a strenuous workout for the soul.
We need to stop comparing our lives and digital images with others. By focusing on the happiness of everyone else we forget how to zoom in on our own blessings. Once we are determined to seek out our inner joy and decide to stop sizing up the vacations, romantic life and wallets of our friends and family, we are ready for the first step.
1. Get Into the Gratitude Mode
Joyfulness begins with a sense of gratitude. Show me a positive, happy person and I will show you a grateful person. Appreciation doesn’t only happen when things are going perfectly. Our mission is to cultivate this sensation of thankfulness as our constant guiding spirit. How?
Customize your outlook to see the good. In Judaism we call this an ‘ayin tov,’ a positive eye. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong, train your eye to see what’s right. Pay attention to the number of times a day you have a negative reaction, criticism or complaint. When someone does something for you, do you find where they fall short instead of saying thank you? When you’re eating out in a restaurant, do you end up griping about the service or the food?
Work on quieting that negative side and building the positive. You will find yourself more pleasant to be around, more thankful and evolving into a happier person.
2. Develop Awareness
Look around and what do you see most people doing? They’re going through life while talking or texting. I recently spoke to a chiropractor who told me that most of her clients today are children whose neck muscles are strained from constantly looking down at their phones or ipads. We have stopped appreciating the life around us. We have lost our sense of awareness and with it, our delight for the people, objects, and moments that surround us. Of course this lack of mindfulness impacts our relationships. We begin to take it all for granted.
When we experience the fullness of life and open our eyes to see the colors of a sunset, listen to the giggles of a child, savor the scent of a home cooked dinner, or share an intimate thought with a loved one, we become more cognizant of our daily opportunities for joy. As we grow mindful, we enjoy more and tune out less.
This consciousness is steeped in Judaism. Instead of just reciting a general blessing, we are given very specific words to help us appreciate ‘the fruits of the tree’, ‘the bread of the earth’, and ‘the many types of fragrance’ that we smell. Upon hearing the boom of thunder, seeing lightning, a rainbow or fruit trees in bloom, there are appropriate blessings to say. The message is that we cannot allow life to pass us by. Joy awaits us if only we would allow ourselves to take a moment.
3. Become A Giver
Those who give, who are charitable and contribute to this world, are genuinely happier people. Researchers at the University of Oregon studied the brains of volunteers who were given $100. The brain center connected to pleasure and reward lit up on the scans of the participants who chose to help others with the money.
When we feel purposeful we feel pleasure. We know that we count and make a difference. We feel needed. We feel alive. We experience the joy of giving.
We also transform ourselves into more sensitive human beings who touch people with our kindness. We grow happier knowing that we have left a beautiful imprint in this world.
It is not just charities and strangers who need us. Our families, friends, spouses and children all have hearts wide open waiting for us to fill a void through our acts of love. Giving a bright smile in times of need, a reassuring hug, a listening ear, an encouraging message when things seem bleak all create positive energy to help others keep on going. When we build bonds we feel joy. We know that this universe has been made better through our presence. This is the joy that money can never buy. It is priceless.
4. Recognize The Positive in Times of Challenge
Times of hardship and crisis can leave us feeling depleted. Even in the most difficult moments it is important to try and recognize the good.
I asked a few people if they could pinpoint the positive despite going through difficulty. Here are some responses:
“When I was faced with serious illness, I saw how loved I was. I realized what a special family I have, and what devoted friends. I never really appreciated what great people I had in my life.”
“When I lost my job, my wife supported me emotionally. She never turned her back on me. We rediscovered how beautiful the little free moments of life were, that we had taken for granted. Now that I am working again, we make sure to take walks and go bike riding with the kids. I never want to lose that.”
“Our marriage hit a low point. We worked hard on not getting divorced. There was lots of anger and pain but I am grateful for the second chance I have been given. This time I am trying to live better and learn from my mistakes.”
After going through a life-changing challenge, like chronic illness or serious disaster, we should try to focus on what positive change can now come instead of what has been lost and how tragic and awful life is. We can try to steer ourselves away from the chaos and ask how we can make it through stronger and more resilient. Think: What have I gained/learned through this experience? Of course no one wants to go through suffering and hardship. But if one does go through struggle, what now?
The fact that you are still standing means that you have what to be joyful for. You have opportunity to take stock and recalibrate.
Though we cannot choose life events, we can choose to live with gratitude and greater awareness. We can stop feeling sorry for ourselves and build bonds with those we love. We can take a better look at the positive that we have gained despite the ordeals.
And then we will realize that we have tapped into the joy that was waiting to be discovered deep within our souls.