a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.
anger, grief, frustration, disappointment, sadness. all are absolutely appropriate in many situations. they give us important information about our needs and values. they can be healing and help us to connect to the vulnerability that links us all.
then there are those of us for whom feelings of dissatisfaction become a default state rather than based on the actual reality of our lives or present moment conditions. (now, i’m not talking about those struggling with clinical depression or other mood disorders).
par example: my lovely Courageous Living Coach Certification leader, Kate Courageous, recently invited us coaching trainees to ponder and practice joy by devising a list of 22 activities, things, people in our lives that inspire delight–things we can turn to when in need of a mood boost or relief from “Victim Mode.”
within a few minutes, i filled my 22 blank lines with simple, accessible, life-affirming moments and then some. it was effortless and…joyful! i finished my list and thought of even more sources of “great pleasure and happiness” that are easily available to me.
looking at the abundant gifts in my life in list form I wondered: with all of this joy in my life, why don’t i feel more joyful?
well, part of the reason is due to a habit that afflicts most of us homo sapiens–what psychologists call negativity bias. that is, from an evolutionary standpoint, humans developed a strategic mental defense to surviving in wild, harsh and unpredictable conditions. this has the brain hardwired to scan for what’s wrong or lacking and to overly focus on it. additionally, we often experience intense reactions to pain and dismay that can overwhelm and drown out our quieter moments of pleasure and delight.
so while creating our joy list and making a point to do more of what we know brings us joy is a start, we also have to help out our heads a bit by doing 2 things.
1. pay attention
be open to experiences, however small, that feel good to you–pay attention to what’s going on around you to allow for positive connections, beautiful sights and sounds and then notice when you are feeling joyful. bring attention and awareness to the experience and really let it sink in and think, this feels good. yeah? yeah.
i love how the late, great Kurt Vonnegut put it in Man without a Country:
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”
2. stay with it & let it linger
take 20-30 seconds to allow the joy to fully register in your brain…intentionally draw out the moment and focus in on the feelings of pleasure, wonder, amusement, satisfaction…don’t let them pass unnoticed. you know the kind of attention you have placed on a fear where it is all-consuming and obsessive. try that out with bliss or contentment. where do you feel the joy your body? what are the joyful thoughts? savor it to allow it to be internalized and stored into your long-term memory. build your joy muscle by focusing in on it and marinating there for awhile. neuropsychologists tell us we can overcome negativity bias by increasing the intensity and length of our happy moments and wiring them into our brains. notice when everything is okay, even…no rapture or glee required. even just taking the time to feel the safety and comforts we often take for granted can shift our perspective.
oh yes, our brains can be retrained!
your assignment: write out your joy list! practice bringing these joyful things into your life more! take the time to notice, appreciate, and integrate your joy!
Lionessa’s Joy List
1. yoko snuggles
2. sunshine warmth on skin
4. > 70% chocolate
5. loud house music in my headphones
7. learning something new & interesting
9. laughing with friends
10. hugs with special friends
12. the movie, The Jerk
13. Eddie Murphy
14. Louis C.K.
15. looking at/making art
16. walking in the woods
17. sitting by a stream
18. one on one connection
19. colorful bright designs
20. pretty stationary, writing letters
21. fitting into clothing that makes me feel great
22. bath with soothing scents