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Joy is an intentional practice. So often our minds are running on autopilot when it comes to happiness, with all-too-familiar story lines. Have you ever thought, “I’ll feel good when I get that new cute fall jacket or finally get this work project done” or “I’ll be happy when I have a certain amount of money in my bank account” or “I’ll be happy when I have a specific number of followers on social media or get recognized in my career”? We can unearth these grooves in our brains with the intention to show up in joy and rejoice for others. 

The Buddha talks a lot about joy for this reason. Why? Mudita (appreciative joy) gives us a way to dismantle the usual habit loops of negativity and close-mindedness and do something different, something more life-affirming and expansive. Responding with joy can activate a host of more wholesome alternatives, such as meeting our own greatest hits of comparing, competitive, and envy-filled mind with the antidote of noticing what is working in our lives and what brings us joy, as well as finding happiness and delight in other people’s good fortune. Most wonderfully, choosing joy takes the sting out of hearing or seeing our usual triggers. 

To cultivate appreciative joy, you must first touch down into the boundless joy available to you in your own life. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “How can we feel joy for another person when we do not feel joy for ourselves? Joy is for everyone.” Awakening to your own joy can be as simple as taking delight in a gorgeous blooming flower, hearing the sound of your beloved’s voice, or noticing the way your favorite song soothes your heart. Waking up to your own joy asks you to investigate your past and present relationship with what brings you happiness and joy. 

As you will find out, there are many different flavors to joy. Dr. Paul Ekman, a world-recognized emotions researcher at the University of San Francisco, California, writes that joy can be expressed through a variety of ways.

Here are some of the ways to joy from his list:

  • The pleasure of the five senses—like taking a lick of your favorite ice cream flavor or seeing a beautiful sunset
  • Amusement and humor—the felt-sense experience of your own laughter after a healing joke
  • Contentment—a subtle satisfaction where you are relaxed and at ease
  • Excitement—the most intense kind of joy in response to novelty or change
  • Relief—the feeling after a strong emotion occurs and then subsides
  • Wonder—the enjoyable feeling of being overwhelmed by the incomprehensible
  • Ecstasy or bliss—a high frequency form of joy, a state of self-transcendent rapture
  • Exultation—the feeling following the completion of a great challenge or difficult task
  • Radiant pride—when someone you love experiences a special moment of success
  • Elevation—“the warm, uplifting feeling that people experience when they see unexpected acts of human goodness, kindness, and compassion”
  • Gratitude—the appreciation of a selfless act that you may have benefited from

Matthieu Ricard, the cellular geneticist turned Buddhist monk, has added three more facets of joy to this list: rejoicing—in someone else’s happiness; delight or enchantment—a shining kind of contentment; and spiritual radiance—a serene joy born from deep well-being and benevolence.

When we start to open up to the ways in which we feel joy, we realize that joy is so often readily available at our fingertips. Even when we are at rock bottom or within a spell of depression, to train the mind in joy means we take notice and attend to just how much joy may still be present amid our darkest of moments. In this way, joy becomes a subtle way back to the fundamental pleasure that’s always there in the present moment.


Meditation: What Brings Me Joy? 

You are going to begin to create your new habit of recognizing what miracles of joy you have available to you right here in this moment.

Start to settle in. Take a few natural breaths. Softly close your eyes. Spend these next few moments scanning your body with a gentle warmth and tender care. Lightly guide your attention to the natural inflow and outflow of the breath. Let any thoughts cross through your mind, smiling at them if that feels helpful, and release them one by one.

Now center your attention in your heart and start to ask today’s mudita mantra, “What brings me joy?” Wait for the answer. Recognize it. Relish it. And ask again: “What brings me joy?” Notice the blessing of joy that comes to mind. Recognize it, savor it, then repeat again, “What brings me joy?” Keep repeating the mantra and reflecting on all the ordinary and extraordinary occurrences that bring you joy. Give yourself permission to feel good and see your life through the eyes of joy. Continue this practice until you feel complete. When you are ready, open your eyes.

Adapted from Kindness Now: A 28-Day Guide to Living with Authenticity, Intention, and Compassion by Amanda Gilbert. Copyright © 2021 by Amanda Gilbert. Out now with Shambhala Publications. 

This article was originally published on June 22, 2021.

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