The Practice of Joy

Joy is our true nature. You need only watch children playing in the park to see our joyful essence expressed.

We all have the capacity to experience peace and joy. But joy is not something to be pursued, for if you attempt to pursue joy, it will evade your grasp. Like happiness, joy is something to be accessed, not pursued.

How do we access the joy of life? How do we realize joy in the midst of what often seems mundane or difficult? The answer is that we realize joy through intentional practices, starting with the intentional practice of humble, grateful reverence for this precious moment of existence.

Reverence requires intention, because our default way of being is to take this miraculous gift of life for granted. How often do you wake up in the morning and proclaim, “Thank you for another day of sacred, self-aware consciousness?” Yet this is the basic truth of things. If we were to suddenly experience conscious existence for the very first time, we would be awestruck. This is why we intentionally practice savoring each moment of existence as if it were both our first moment and our last. Realizing the preciousness of our life, many positive emotions arise in our hearts, including joy.

It is also our default nature to grasp for what we do not have, to want, and to desire. Conversely, we also instinctively push away, resist and complain. We have a built-in negativity bias. Even in paradise, we would eventually find something lacking, something to complain about. We mistakenly see happiness as dependent upon our conditions. We are driven to seek out pleasure and to avoid the unpleasant. Yet all pleasures are fleeting, and life entails constant distresses, both large and small. In our compulsive need for Reality to be other than what it is, we lose our sense of the essential joy for this gift of existence.

You can counter your default, unskillful habits of habituation, grasping and aversion through the practice of reverence and respect for the Now. Paradoxically, reverent acceptance of this eternal moment better enables you to act positively to diminish distress and enhance Life.

We cultivate joy through intentional practices. Effort—gentle, persistent effort—is required. Joy is everywhere if we set our intention to look for it. As you attend to joy, so you will enhance your experience of joy. The following are a set of 20 “joy practices” that will help you to savor the gift of existence now:

  1. Stop hurting yourself. If you have a vulnerability to addiction, renounce addicting. Protect yourself as you go about your day. Be careful so as to minimize harm to yourself and others. Remember that Life feeds on Life, and that evil exists. Just as Life sustains you, so too can it consume you. Take care and do nothing to bring harm upon yourself. Renounce destructive habits. Instead, commit your life to the practice of love—for yourself, for others, and for all of Life—in all that you say and do.
  2. Let go and forgive. Stop resenting Reality—the people in your life and the conditions of your life—for not conforming to your ideas of how things should be. Be humble. See that Life is about Life, and not just about you. Release old hurts, resentments, and judgments. Replace negative judgments with discernment. Seek to understand, as understanding breeds compassion.
  3. Engage in a spiritual practice of silence, solitude, and stillness. Your practice could be meditation, prayer, or contemplation. Mind-body practices such as yoga are also an option. Through your stillness practice, you will cultivate your reverence and respect for Reality. In stillness, you can calm the mind. You allow yourself to experience the ease and peace of being.
  4. As you go through your day, practice presence. Make a gentle effort to be still while still moving. Cultivate “Beginner’s mind,” savoring each moment as if it were both your first and last moment. Cultivate inquisitiveness. Look and listen so you can see deeply and hear deeply. Keep it fresh. Be open. Recognize the Grace and abundance that are all around you. Let stillness be your anchor and refuge. You will cultivate inner peace through your practice of stillness. The practice of presence will cultivate loving-kindness and joy. In still presence, attend fully to every joyful experience, starting with the simple joy of taking a breath.
  5. Start each day with an intention to savor all the simple joys of life. Savor the ability to see, to hear, to feel, to taste, and to touch. Savor the beauty that is all around you. Savor the miracle of your existence.
  6. As you practice reverence for the Now, take particular care to practice self-reverence. This may be difficult if you were neglected, unloved, or harmed growing up. If this is the case, you will need to engage in a daily intentional practice of self-love. Accept your fears, your faults, your misdeeds and mistakes, and your negativity bias. Paradoxically, change begins with reverent self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness. Be kind to yourself while holding yourself accountable for your actions.
  7. Get treatment for medical and psychiatric conditions. If you have been broken by neglect or trauma, get help to heal and become whole. Practice all of these joy practices daily, as they too will help you to heal.
  8. Take good care of yourself. Live life skillfully and intelligently. Eat well, sleep, rest, exercise, and engage in a daily spiritual practice.
  9. Manage your pain with love rather than with attempting to numb yourself. Soothe yourself with breath work and other calming mind-body practices. Comfort yourself with positive affirmations and reassurances. Ask for help and support. See that love is all around you if you only reach out and ask for help. Get connected and avoid isolation.
  10. Practice respectful authenticity. Be who you are. Have the courage to be you. Let yourself experience the vulnerability of authenticity. Don’t take others’ nonacceptance or condemnations of you personally. Remind yourself that if you act with love and integrity, that you have done your part, and that others’ reactions are not about you—they are about them. When you make mistakes—which you will do every day of your life—forgive yourself for being perfectly imperfect. Show yourself the love and compassion you deserve, even when others do not.
  11. Have fun. Play. Do what you love. Make time for simple pleasures. Savor the small things that can bring joy, like a meal, a walk around the block, the smile and laugh of a friend, or a warm shower. Watch the sunrise or sunset. Be in nature. Enjoy music and the arts. Sing. Be creative. Hang out. Balance doing and being. Read a good book. Dance. Relax. Take a nap. Watch a movie. Slow down.
  12. Be with positive, joyful people doing positive, joyful things. Be with those you love. Maintain connection rituals and routines, such as family dinners and social events with friends.
  13. Practice gratitude—for life, for love, and for abundance. Notice what is good in your life. Focus on the many good things, not the few distressing things. Say thank you.
  14. Practice love and kindness. Start each day with an intention to love. As you go through your day, practice compassion—especially self-compassion—empathy, generosity, contentedness, helpfulness, hopefulness, appreciation, humility, patience, forgiveness, and yielding. Cultivate an unconditional friendliness towards yourself and others. Wish yourself and others peace, happiness, and joy. Love life. As you love, so will Life resonate with your loving. You will realize the joy of making a difference to others and will experience love coming back to you.
  15. Practice positivity. See the opportunities in difficult situations. Your reverence for this moment will lead to a positive attitude, which will lead to positive thoughts, which will result in positive actions, which will lead to positive outcomes.
  16. Seek out humor. Enjoy comedy. Laugh often. Practice smiling on purpose—it will make you feel better.
  17. Live with balance. Balance doing and being. Balance work, love, and play.
  18. Visualize joy. Recall past moments of joy. Remember yourself as a child having fun. Bring the feeling of past experiences of joy into this present moment.
  19. Cultivate the joy of discovery. Make learning and growth a life habit. Practice an art, such as playing an instrument, sculpting, or drawing. Take classes. Read books. Listen closely to others and ask questions. Strive to understand.
  20. Live a meaningful life. Take at least one action a day towards your higher goals and dreams. Live for the One Life of which you are a part. When you live for your higher purpose, you cultivate the joy of meaning.

Make these 20 “joy practices” part of your daily life routine. The time to experience joy is now. There is no need to wait for a certain set of circumstances. You have a choice. So choose joy.

Joy will protect you, for when you are full of joy, you will have no need to addict or engage in other negative behaviors in an attempt to bring temporary relief. These joy practices are really the practice of love. Through these practices, may you live love and love life.

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