World: meet Luna, my celestial blue bike. If you follow my Instagram, you know I am enthusiastic about riding in Atlanta. So as a Valentine’s Day gift to myself, I splurged on new wheels. Physically, the bike elevates my power on rides. Spiritually, the bike is a conduit for joy. And, well, Luna is beautiful. As I ride, weaving around potholes and through alleys, I am grateful for the time I made for frolicking in the city. When I ride with a group, I sense camaraderie with other cyclists. Post-cruise, my endorphins run high, and I feel invigorated. In this way, adding the bike Luna to my life is an act of nurturing joy.
I believe we are in a constant state of becoming our true selves. Therefore, I experiment with myself to hone in on what vibes with me at a deeper level. Many self-growth writers focus on how to correct imperfections. Instead, my approach is to double down on the good stuff. First, I use bliss as my bellwether, and then I lean in. I pay attention to my feelings and then create opportunities to encounter JOY. For example, in 2017, when I decided to move to Tokyo, I followed my joy of travel. While there, I connected with others developing a transnational identity. Being abroad helped me highlight that elemental sense of who I am and brought me closer to encounters with joy. From this and many life lessons, I pursue opportunities for joy as my guiding life principle.
Before going on, let me try the imperfect art of definition. Joy is neither happiness nor bliss. But it is somehow related to both. In Atlas of the Heart, Dr. Brené Brown suggests: “Joy is sudden, unexpected, short-lasting, and high-intensity. It is characterized by connection with others, or with God, nature, or the universe. Joy expands our thinking and attention, and it fills us with a sense of freedom and abandon.”
Joy, then, is like catching a warm ray of sun and appreciating it. Nurturing joy is not simply falling into hedonism. It is more aligned with being an Epicure. It is pausing and enjoying the good things in life with balance and in stride. It is setting the stage for magic. If, as Dr. Brown suggests, joy is fleeting, how can we plan to have more joy in our lives?
It has taken me years to learn how to integrate joy into my life. It is an inexact art, but I know it begins with the capacity to listen inwards. Here are three practices that have helped me cultivate and follow joy in life:
The Happiness Jar
Over the course of a year, take note of the moments that brought you gratitude. Write them down on a little slip of paper and stick them in the jar. Then, at the end of the year, read and remember those moments. Along the way, you learn what to prioritize.
Last week, for example, a friend of mine reached out because she was in my area, and we went to lunch. It turned into a whole day of hanging out. I added a note about her lovely surprise visit to my happiness jar. Later on, when I reminisce, I will remember how important it is to have unscheduled time for such chance encounters.
Research shows an intriguing link between joy and gratitude (see, again, Atlas of Heart). The trait of gratitude predicts more fantastic future experiences of in-the-moment joy. Joy predicts further experiences of in-the-moment gratitude. And dispositional or situational joy predicts greater future subjective well-being.
Thus, I recommend paying attention to happiness. Over time, this adds to my well-being.
Becoming aware of your inner reaction requires silencing outside noise. In that way, we can focus on what resonates with us through sensitivity to perceptions, sensations, and feelings. Awareness helps us notice the beautiful moments in life. Meditation helps grow awareness. Awareness, along with attention, is like a muscle. The more we practice it, the stronger it gets.
Pause to stay with it
My lesson for the joyous moments is to pause and allow the good feelings to sink in. It is a bit like making tiramisu. You place all the good things together. But the most challenging step is to avoid eating it right away once you stack the layers. The best tiramisu hangs and soaks goodness overnight. Then, you have tiramisu infused adequately with patience and deliciousness.
If I am alert to good feelings, I pause consciously to stay with the aura. I might even hold my hand to my heart as if holding the moment close to me.
Practice Opening Your Heart
If all of this is foreign, and you struggle to find joy and happiness, I suggest a mini 12-week course from Julia Cameron. Her book, The Artist’s Way, explores activities to discover your inner creativity. The lessons are not limited to would-be artists. Her lessons are designed to open your heart and senses to learning what makes you feel burning with aliveness. The book combines practices, essays, and quotes bound to ignite our buried inner selves.
Who Needs Joy?
In Desert Solitaire, American wilderness enthusiast and social critic Edward Abbey wonders why desert frogs sing in the rain.
“Has joy any survival value in the operations of evolution? I suspect that it does; I suspect that the morose and fearful are doomed to quick extinction. Where there is no joy there can be no courage; and without courage all other virtues are useless. Therefore the frogs, the toads, keep on singing even though we know, if they don’t, that the sound of their uproar must surely be luring all the snakes and ringtail cats and kit foxes and coyotes and great horned owls toward the scene of their happiness.”
Though it is dangerous, frogs sing, Abbey, surmises it is because they celebrate life. I agree. When we focus on joy, it inspires and moves us. Nurturing joy is an act of self-love and celebration. Being true to yourself and perfecting your love of yourself can be a challenge. Honing in on and growing my inner self through the sharp lens of joy is an antidote to the ups and downs of life. Joy is not only a barometer for the capacity to enjoy life; it is a time-tested route on the path of spiritual enlightenment.
From Joy to Enlightenment
The ancient Hindu wisdom of Sat Chit Ananda reminds us that our bliss, Ananda, is a route to enlightenment. While the world sells us images of external sources of gratification, we can naturally develop a nagging sense of lack. On top of this, modern lifestyle changes add to a growing sense of social isolation. Together, these trends push people away from their inner knowledge. As we make opportunities to learn from joy, we move toward a higher bliss. We rejoice in knowing we always have the capacity for joy, peace, and light.
Joy, then, is the surprise appreciation we develop when magic comes from the mundane. It is at the heart of doing something new, going on an adventure, or a chance meeting with an old friend. On rainy days I find myself longing for the next bit of sunshine. As the sun returns, I take Luna out. Along the way, I will encounter the Phoenix’s rebirth in Atlanta, flora and fauna of the city, the power of my body, and new roads to travel. My heart sings, and my spirit soars over these blue handlebars. Luna and I become adventure partners on a joint joy journey.