Nature has a way of telling us about what is important in life. Summer reminds me of how essential cultivating happiness is to living well. Considering all the hardships we have endured during the last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more apparent to me that joy in life is a non-negotiable.
Buddhism teacher and scholar Christina Feldman says “it is what keeps us human in the midst of difficulty.”
The ability to turn towards the positive and the good has not come easily to me. Somewhere along the way, I decided that suffering was noble and joy was frivolous. Mindfulness helped me challenge this notion. I know, because I have experienced it, that to sustain sanity and health, we humans require regular doses of positivity. Pain is a given, suffering is optional.
Apparently, there is no agreed to scientific definition of joy. The one I am talking about is not the fake it ‘til you make it kind, nor the kind that depends on external conditions being right, or on achieving this or owning that.
I mean inwardly generated joy, a capacity we are all born with. It simply takes observing children at play to know this. And like everything else, it is impermanent, it comes and it goes.
Mindfulness has taught me that authentic joy, the kind that fills me to the brim with micro-moments of gladness, arises through dedication and a commitment to practicing it. A conscious intention to turn towards the positive and the wholesome in the midst of the daily ups and downs, on and off the cushion.
And its lasting positive effects on our immune system, our stress levels, our brain and our ability to connect with others is not wishful thinking or a bunch of fluff, it has been scientifically proven. There is a school of psychology and academic studies devoted to researching and teaching happiness.
And there’s good news: the ability to cultivate happiness is not just predicated on one’s genetic makeup but on what we do every day. Joy is not something that overcomes us, we need to nurture it, continually.
My invitation to all of us is to live the gifts of summer fully by filling ourselves with goodness by choosing to pay attention to it. It’s just waiting to be noticed.
Here are two of my favorite “joy” practices. Try them out, you might just enjoy them!
The cultivating happiness body scan
Renowned meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg shares this meditation in her book Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection. She learned it from Sri Lankan monk, the Venerable Ananda Maitreya, who died at the age of 102. Salzeberg says, “He had more energy at 94 years of age than most people I knew.” Could it be that much of his vigor comes from repeatedly offering appreciation to his body?
The practice is simple and goes like this: Focusing on different parts of the body in sequence, you repeat silently “May my head be happy. May it be peaceful. May my eyes be happy. May they be peaceful,” and so on through the whole body. Repeat this from top to bottom ending with “May my toes be happy. May my toes be peaceful.” Enjoy it.
Walking with the intention to notice pleasure
Take a 20-to-30-minute walk, undisturbed. During your walk, consciously choose to turn your attention to and notice what brings you a felt sense of joy and pleasure. Notice and name it. If you want, stop and observe it. When you notice that your attention wanders elsewhere, bring your attention back to your walk and to choosing to notice pleasure.
Author: Kim Brice, mindfulness teacher and leaderschip coach.