Joy Now and Every Day
Today is all about creating joy. Christmas time is full of joy for many people. It’s interesting to me; you can feel the shift this time of year. People walk differently, some even smile back at you, there’s a charge in the air that is infectious. The joy of Christmas is a wonderful thing and is available to you all year long.
So, what is it about Christmas that insights joy in so many? Christmas is a glorious season, no doubt. Finding the real joy of Christmas comes not in the hurrying and the scurrying to get more done. We find the real joy of Christmas when we focus on the reason for the season. While the holidays are not always joyous for everyone, it gives us an opportunity to not focus on our circumstances, but to find joy in the season and the celebration.
We find joy when our celebration of Christmas is a reflection of love and selflessness. Giving, not getting, this brings to full bloom the spirit of Christmas. We feel more kindly to one another. We reach out in love to help those less fortunate. Our hearts are softened. Enemies are forgiven and friends remembered. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.
I found this great quote by Tecumseh, “When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”
This brings me to the point that joy isn’t available only at Christmas. I’m grateful that the holidays put everyone in the mood, but I do wish that mood would be sprinkled a little bit more throughout the other 10 months of the year. So, how can you continue this joy?
It’s much simpler than you may think. Here’s a short list of different things you can implement or maybe you are already doing, but you can be more present when you’re doing them and really take in the moment. Try this – just smile. Hold that smile for at least 10 seconds. It’s the simple things, like laughing and smiling regardless of how you “feel.” You can help someone even in a small way, by carrying their groceries, paying their toll, buying their Starbucks, etc. Also, getting out in nature is a sure way to find some joy. It just brings you back to a peaceful, happy place. You can also, play like a kid. For some reason, Snapchat does that for me. I look forward to their filters every day because I can go in there and just be silly and laugh at myself. If you have trouble remembering how to play like a kid, go visit a playground or go play with your kids. Research proves this and I’ll elaborate on this more a little later.
Joy is what makes life beautiful. It’s what gets us through challenges and allows light in to illuminate the shadows. Joy heals our wounds, inspires us to greatness, and fills our souls with goodness.
Whether your joy comes from the glow of professional accomplishment, or deep spiritual fulfillment, whether it trickles in small pleasures or flows in a deluge of delight, most would agree that we want more of it.
But you won’t find joy from the lottery tickets tucked in your wallet. Nor will you find it in wrinkle-removing plastic surgery. Studies have shown that money and beauty are not reliable or substantial sources of happiness. According to happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, of the University of California, Riverside, life circumstances only account for 10% of happiness. Half depends on our genetic “set point,” which is what we discussed on last week’s podcast. About 40% of our happiness is influenced by what we do deliberately to make ourselves happy. And being happy is the key precursor to joy. “You can’t be joyful all the time,” says Lyubomirsky, “but people who are happy are going to be joyful more frequently.”
What the Experts Say
Here’s what experts believe you can do to increase the joy, both large and small, in your life:
Notice what’s right Experts agree that optimistic people are happier people. Those who look on the bright side experience more happiness than those who try to see things as they really are. It’s a process scientists call reframing: If you try to cast negative events in a positive light, and you see the silver lining, you can turn a bad situation into a joyful one.
Take my business partner. When it comes to road trips, he’s the master at preparing for anything that can happen. He has everything you could possibly imagine for both good and bad possibilities. But, that’s really the extent of his planning. He likes to go with the flow and then realize that all the hotels are booked. So, you take the good, because his skill of preparation far outweighs anyone’s ability to book a hotel, etc. And because he’s so prepared, why not experience something new when there’s no hotel available.
“If you only focus on what’s wrong, you will not experience joy. You will experience discouragement, depression, low self-esteem,” explains M. J. Ryan, author of 365 Health and Happiness Boosters. “But when you focus on what’s right about a situation—the exact same situation—you’re increasing the possibility that you will experience joy and high happiness.”
Another way to experience joy . . .
Be grateful We all know we’re supposed to count our blessings, but we may not realize that in this platitude lies one of the most significant ways of increasing joy. It sounds cliché, but research actually supports this. One study found that those who regularly recorded what they were thankful for in “gratitude journals” showed higher levels of optimism, enthusiasm, attentiveness, and energy, and they felt better about their life as a whole.
Remember the kid you were Just as I said previously, children create joy for themselves again and again, first it may be in a game of hide-and-seek, then whirling around to music in princess costumes. They are full of smiles, giggles, and belly laughs. “Joy is one of those exuberant feelings we see in children,” says Pamela Gail Johnson, founder of a group called Secret Society of Happy People, a website she started to provide a forum for those who want to encourage the expression of happiness. As adults, when do we lose that? That experience of being in that natural high?
It’s a question Hallowell explores in The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness. “I wanted to look at the sources in childhood that lead to joy in adulthood,” he says. “If you have this feeling when you get up in the morning of ‘can-do, wanna-do,’ you have friends you look forward to seeing, you have activities you look forward to doing, you can usually trace those things back to childhood,” he explains.
Hallowell discovered that the capacity of adults to experience great joy and enthusiasm about life has its roots in how they did things as children. He cites five basic steps that should ideally take place in a child’s development to help ensure future joy:
- Experiencing unconditional love from key adults
- Discovering one’s passions through play
- Practicing those passions
- Mastering them, thereby reinforcing confidence and self-esteem
- Experiencing recognition from the outside world
“It’s never too late,” says Hallowell. “If you’re willing to set aside your sense of embarrassment and to play, then you can rediscover the childlike qualities that are strongly associated with joy.”
Be kind Random acts of kindness increase happiness. There are lots of benefits that come from showing kindness that make you happier and help you stay happy. A study conducted at the University of Virginia found that merely witnessing acts of kindness, loyalty, and heroism created a significant elevation in mood and increased the desire to perform good deeds (witness the long lines of blood donors after 9/11).
Spend time with your buddies Although a rich social and romantic life does not in itself guarantee joy, it has a huge effect on happiness. A study of college students showed that the happiest among them were more social, spent less time alone, and reported strong, supportive relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners.
Move more If you’ve experienced “runner’s high” like I have or maybe just the afterglow when you’re done exercising, you know how joyful exercise can be. Several studies have shown that exercise is a powerful mood elevator. One small pilot study found that 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise worked faster than drugs to ease depression.
Put on a happy face Like I stated previously, studies show that even muscular changes in your face can elevate your happiness, as can good posture. It works because if you act like you’re a happier person, you can experience all these positive social consequences. You make more friends and people are nicer to you.
Find your calling Some find meaning in religion or spirituality. Others find a sense of purpose in their work. Finding your calling may be more of a lifelong mission than a simple strategy for increasing joy, but having a sense of purpose—of feeling like you are here for a reason—can perhaps bring the greatest joy of all.
A Role Model
If you’re looking for a role model, here’s a story of a mighty survivor. Inger Osteraa has been fighting a very aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for nearly 2 decades. Since 1985, her body has been frequently peppered with tumors that have fractured her spine and nearly shut down her liver. At various times, some of the top doctors in the US told her she had “just months to live.” Now free from cancer for nearly 3 years, the 67-year-old Osteraa reflects on how, even in the face of this deadly disease, she never lost her ability to experience joy.
“When you can hear the minutes ticking, and you know the buzzer is going to go off at any minute, and your time will be up, you see things so clearly,” she says. “You just know without a doubt where your values are and why you’re alive, and you’re so grateful for each moment.”
At one point, when she thought she had only a short time to live, she planted bare root roses with her toddler grandson, even though she knew they wouldn’t bloom for months. Connecting to nature and to someone she loved “brought me tremendous joy,” she says.
Osteraa now gets “unbelievable joy” every afternoon by going outside; to read overlooking those roses with her legs resting on her 125-lb dog, Clyde, something she says takes her back to the joy she felt as a young child growing up in Norway when her dog would pull her on skis through the woods.
So, it’s up to you. To give of one’s self is truly gift. How much better the world would be if we all gave gifts of understanding and compassion, of service and friendship, of kindness and gentleness. And yes, even a smile.
For me, this time of year, to catch the real meaning of the spirit of Christmas and find true joy, we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the Spirit of Christ.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our journey today!! The road to excellence is paved with many stories and it would make my heart sing to know that you spending time with me today has, in some way, helped you see the gift that you are to this world.
Thank you for joining me today and until next time, Live Excellence.