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
Watch the video:
Listen to the practice:
Unhooking from Negativity and Savoring Joy
Read the practice:
1. Let’s take our seat wherever we happen to be. As always, you’re welcome to lie down if you’re in a place where you can do that. Let’s take a few deeper breaths. Just settle in here: lengthen your inhale and your exhale. During these opening breaths, simply scan your mind and body and notice how you’re feeling. Let’s use the breath to bring some balance in this moment. If you’re feeling tired or drowsy, just take in a little bit more air, emphasize the inhale. If you’re feeling agitated or restless, emphasize the exhale—really extend it. And then allow your breath to come to its natural rhythm. Feel your contact with the chair, your feet on the ground. Find that support and contact with the earth.
2. Now let’s bring to mind some recent joyful moments from our lives. Alternatively, you could reflect on some of the things you’re grateful for in your life. What’s working these days? You’re alive, so something must be working … Maybe it’s simply that you found this 30-day challenge and you’ve done some practices—you’ve found the time to take care of yourself in this way. Or maybe you’ve been seeing some benefits in your life. Perhaps there’s a relationship you’re enjoying; you’re feeling loved and connected. This could be with a person, or it could be that you have a puppy or a cat in your life. Or maybe you’ve been to a place that’s stirred joy in you: some place in nature, perhaps near a lake, surrounded by trees, a spot where you could gaze upon a vista you love. Choose one or a few moments to focus on and really get the joy going. What brings you joy? Maybe it’s recalling movement such as dancing or swimming or another physical activity that stirs joy for you. Perhaps it’s travel, a recent trip. Or maybe it’s learning something new.
3. Really reflect on receiving the joy of these experiences. Bring your attention into your body. Notice how you experience joy in this moment. Where do you feel it in your body? The chest, the belly, the throat, the face? What do you notice? Is there a temperature to the joy? Is there a flow or movement to the energy of joy in your body? How big is it? As you pay attention to it, can you kind of relax your attention into the joy? Breathe into it. And if there’s a sense that this energy of joy wants to grow, let it. Maybe it expands to other parts of your body—all the way out to your fingertips and your toes. Just notice: is it tingling, vibrating, flowing?
4. If at any point you lose that felt sense of connection, just recall again the images, people, situations that bring you joy. Then return to feeling into and savouring and maybe even expanding that felt sense and felt energy of joy in your body. Breathe into it.
5. As we close out this short practice, let’s take a moment to reflect on and notice the people, places, situations that bring us joy. What were the things that really inspired a felt, energetic sense of joy for you? Maybe they surprised you. Maybe they’re things that you don’t do that often. But you could. You could bring more of that into your life. So, how could you do that?
6. Before we finish, let’s make a simple commitment to do one of those things that brings us joy. Let’s commit to bringing in more of that joy-inducing activity or more of that connection or more time with the people in our lives that bring us joy.
7. When you’re ready, open your eyes if they were closed. Take a deep breath. Are you orienting yourself to the space around you? Notice how you feel right now.
As you go back into your day, I invite you to pay more attention to what’s joyful in your life. Then, commit to drawing more of that in, and to cultivating it further.