Mca blog

How To Increase Joy In Your Life

Living in Sydney it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to have such a comfortable, temperate climate. Sure, we get a few cold days in winter and some very hot ones in summer, but on the whole our climate here is made for easy indoor-outdoor living.

Today was one of those beautiful sunny winter’s days where it was still cool in the shade but deliciously warm in the winter sun. I took the time to walk in the park, smelling the trees and feeling grateful for our easy and safe existence here.

There’s so much pain and hardship in this world of ours and it’s so easy to dwell on what’s not right, what doesn’t work, what causes us suffering.

But these moments of joy and peace are important. Holding them close, dwelling on them, can boost the networks in our brain that register happiness. In this way we can train ourselves to focus more on the light than the darkness.

I never let these pleasurable moments pass without a sense of deep gratitude that lifts my heart, no matter what has happened previously through the day. This sense of gratitude fills me with complete joy.

So what is Joy? Joy is different to happiness. Happiness is a transient emotion that may emerge as a result of a pleasant experience. Joy, on the other hand is deeper, less fleeting and almost primal in nature. We know what makes us happy, but don’t always know why we feel joy. Joy is a deep sense that life is good.  And in this way, it’s also connected to gratitude. Acknowledging our good fortune, as we do with gratitude, can result in deep joy.

Joy is good for the health. Studies have shown that the regular experience of joy may reduce one’s risk of having a heart attack, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, assist with weight management and decrease stress levels. In addition, joyful people are more likely to exercise, eat healthy foods, sleep better and avoid smoking. 

It’s interesting that these same parameters can be found to improve in people who regularly practice mindfulness, and that practicing mindfulness increases one’s sense of joy. 

This may be because mindfulness makes us intentionally aware of what is good in life and helps us be less judgmental of what isn’t. Once you remove the judgement (why is it like that, I wish it were different, if only this had or hadn’t happened, these things always happen to me, etc), you reduce the suffering. In reducing your suffering, you open yourself to either exploring possible solutions or to finding acceptance of what is. When we stop catastrophising and ruminating over our misfortunes, we find more time to notice the good and to experience more joy. Even in the darkest moments you will probably find a flicker of light if you look for it.

Here are some ways that you can increase your sense of joy:

  1. Look for things to be grateful for. Do this now. Stop and think of 2 things that have happened today that you are grateful for (eg sunshine, tasty breakfast, finding a parking spot, a spontaneous hug from offspring or partner, a kind deed from a stranger or friend, a good cup of coffee, etc). Notice how this makes you feel. The more you practice this the easier it gets.
  2. Be kind.  Kindness to others connects you. It may be a random act of kindness to a stranger (passing on a parking ticket that hasn’t expired yet, letting someone in the supermarket queue ahead of you, holding the elevator door open for a stranger) or to someone you know (buying a colleague a cup of coffee, preparing a special weekend breakfast for a friend or family member for no special reason, noticing and commenting favourably on someone’s haircut or new clothes). Kindness rewards both the giver and the taker.
  3. Keep your sense of perspective. Many of us have the tendency to over inflate things of little significance whilst ignoring the things that really matter. Before expending a lot of negative energy over some perceived injustice or slight, consider the things that are really important in your life and prioritise them. 
  4. Practice Mindfulness Meditation regularly.  The informal moment-to-moment practice of mindfulness brings awareness and joy into your life. But the formal practice of meditation will alter the structure of your brain to help your to become a more joyful person. In the same way as physical activity change your muscles and bones, mental activity changes your brain’s neurons.  It’s not just about thinking more happy thoughts; it’s also about thinking fewer unhappy ones. The formal practice of meditation teaches our minds how to do this.

Join us on Mondays at our online meditation practice group to learn more.

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