Unhook from Negativity and Savor Joy

Training our brains to find joy helps counter our natural negativity bias so we can receive and enjoy what’s good in our lives.

Perhaps it seems strange to be investigating what we consider to be a positive emotion, but I think we often miss joy. We don’t actually pay a lot of attention to it; we can often let it slip by without much notice. The good news is, there are practices to cultivate it. And these practices can help us attend to and support joy in our felt experience. It’s actually a pretty important emotion.

Joy aids us in waking up to our lives. And it’s a factor in supporting concentration. So if you’re someone who feels distracted much of the time, have difficulty focusing or paying attention, cultivating and attending to joy is a great way to deepen your concentration.

First, let’s explore what joy is. For me, it can be pleasurable to experience, but it’s essentially different from pleasure. I experience joy as a really internal occurrence. It can be sparked by something external, but it’s also something I can very much cultivate internally. One of the great ways to do that is to consider the things in my life that I’m grateful for. Another way is to savor—really stop and savor—what’s beautiful and good and working in my life.

This is a profoundly important ability because as humans we operate with a negativity bias. In and of itself, that bias makes a lot of sense: we tend to focus our minds on what is wrong or threatening or what could harm us so that we might be better protected through the vagaries of life. But if we allow that negativity bias to run rampant, we risk missing out on what’s beautiful and joyful and nourishing in our lives. Not to mention, we grow less and less equipped to actually cultivate such beauty and joy and nourishment ourselves. So training ourselves to receive and enjoy what’s good is no frivolous pursuit.

So let’s practice. And again, as we’ve done with all of our practices with emotions, we’ll mostly attend to the physical sensations of joy. And maybe we’ll see it grow as we pay attention to it. While we’re at it, we’ll also try to notice how focusing on joy can help strengthen our concentration. The great thing is, if you give the mind something pleasant and joyful to pay attention to, it will want to go there. Maybe you’ll decide to begin each mindfulness practice with joy cultivation. (Talk about a great motivator for sitting down for a few minutes). You may also want to employ this approach in your everyday life.

Unhook from Negativity and Savor Joy

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