It’s pretty amazing that I have enough joy in my life today to write about it.
I have survived a lot in my life.
I’ve survived abuse and trauma. Until fifteen years or so ago, I — to put it very mildly — had an unjoyful life. My journey had built up layers of protection, preemptive bitterness… no joy.
I’ve been blessed to learn how to melt those layers, to soften, and to invite and welcome joy.
And to soften some more so I can improve my tolerance for joy — yup, for survivors this can definitely be a thing. It sure is for me.
When you spend years and years and years being in a perpetual bad mood, joy and other positive emotions can be tough to take. You know how the ego finds comfort with the devil it knows.
Are you wondering what you can do to increase the joy in the your life?
Here are my three favorite tools and practices that build and enhance joy.
I’ve been transforming everything about the way I think, speak, and act for going on 25 years now, and I’m living proof that it’s possible to take really positive actions and still be miserable. Like getting clean and sober, for example. I really really wanted joy and all its buddies — satisfaction, serenity, self-acceptance, goodness — to land in my life like flipping a switch. It took me a long time to figure out that like most changes in life, daily (hourly? with each breath?) practice and more practice — in this now moment and the next — is the only way to make lasting changes.
#0. Let’s start with practice zero — the one you need to embrace in order for anything to change. That tool is choice.
The act of choosing to do something positive, and something different (like using any of the three tools that follow) is the game changer.
You can easily (too easily!) perpetuate your misery by thinking, speaking, and acting in this moment and the next the same way you’ve been thinking, speaking, and acting up until this moment.
“Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want a different result, make a different choice.” — Unknown
I know it sounds simple, and I also know that choosing to choose something different and more positive than what’s keeping you miserable is probably the single most worthwhile choice you can make. Even if it feels difficult.
Start now. Choose to keep reading, and choose to try something new or even something you tried once before and then forgot about. As they told me in 12-step: Give it a try for 90 days. You can always get your misery freely refunded to you.
#1. Change your thinking
It’s simple. Change your thinking, change your life. Here’s a tiny bit of the science about this.
You didn’t create your pain and your negative thinking on a whim. In fact, there was probably a really good reason for some of these behaviors in your past. They might have protected you from danger or abuse. What happens, though, is that those protective behaviors become grooved habitual responses and then you’re repeating them and repeating them without even knowing why. These behaviors went from being protective to being your thrown-to way of being.
There are many ways to learn different and better ways to think.
- Learn and practice meditation — if you’re a newbie, start with lovingkindness or mindfulness. I use apps on my phone that guide me through my daily meditation practice.
- Zip your lip. Learn to think before you speak. Wait, wait, and wait some more until your habitual responses quiet down and you can think of a more loving response. This saved my ass for all the years it took for my thinking to begin to change. I’d bite my tongue until something someone wiser had said occurred to me and then I’d speak.
- Know your hula hoop (also known as mind your own business). When you’re feeling victimized and put upon by people, places, and things that are not you and not in your control, envision yourself in the center of a hula hoop and take ownership of the idea that everything that is outside that hula hoop is none of your business. Try it.
“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.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
#2. Find and express your gratitude
Gratitude is the one that opened the path to living a transformed life for me. In fact, this blog started out as a gratitude journal.
When I began with this practice, it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t feel grateful at all. I was raising a young daughter who was angry and violent (can’t imagine where she learned those things!). I was miserable. I had just lost my one big client (for the second time). I had plenty of circumstances that made it clear to me that gratitude was a ridiculous idea.
Luckily, by then, I had learned how to be willing. Or willing to be willing, anyway. (Or even sometimes willing to be willing to be….) So I tried. And my gratitudes were gritty (sometimes still are!). Like:
- I’m grateful I’m not having surgery without anesthesia right now.
- I’m grateful that my daughter didn’t run away today.
- I’m grateful there’s no reason to call the police at this moment.
It got better. It’s much better now. On most days anyway. I write my gratitudes on a piece of beautiful paper with a lovely marker and crumple it into a seed and place it in my gratitude jar. At this point in my journey, no one sees my gratitudes but me. If you’re first starting out, it’s juicy and joyful and wonderful to share your gratitudes with someone else. A buddy, your support team….or share them online as I did for years.
Gratitude and deprivation cannot coexist. Try it. If you’re in gratitude, you’re not going to be feeling victimized or sorry for yourself.
“Appreciation can make a day — even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that’s necessary.” — Margaret Cousins
#3. Generosity — do something for someone else
Generosity. Sharing of your time, treasure, and talents. (I just found out that this phrase is from the bible, who knew?) Some say it’s really best to be generous in stealth mode. If that option is available to you, try it; it can be awesome to just give without getting direct thanks in return. I find that either way works just fine.
This was a hard one for me to adopt. I had to act as if I was okay with letting go of anything! And when I did I softened. I found that when I loosened my death grip on MINE! I was open to receive. Generosity and entitlement also cannot coexist. Give, give a little, give a little more, and see what happens. Ways to take on generosity:
- If you have toll booths in your life, pay for the person behind you (stealth mode!).
- Carry some cash or packaged food with you and give it to someone who looks like they need it.
- Smile, just smile, at a stranger or ten.
“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” ― Debbie Macomber
So, darling, are you using these tools?
The good news is that with a ton of practice making better choices, changing your thinking, being grateful and generous, you will have more joy in your life, and you’ll not only tolerate joy — you’ll seek and welcome it!
What practices have you tried, and what have you found? Did I miss anything? Share your joy builders in the comments!