“Joy is not in things; it is in us.”
Each morning I shuffle my mantra cards and choose one randomly to contemplate during my morning meditation and for the rest of the day. Today the card that arrived was “I choose joy“. My immediate reaction and thought, given that I am beginning to manage my symptoms of depression, is well it is just not that simple. Can there be joy when there is pain and suffering? Can there by joy when life sucks? I have found it hard to write or say the words “merry” and “happy” that go with Christmas and New Year this season. I have been wishing people a safe, restful and peaceful holiday instead.
As I meditated I contemplated the difference between joy and happiness, there are some similarities as they are both positive emotions and can make us feel great. That surge of happiness or joy that warms our heart and courses through our veins. But they are also very different, happiness is circumstantial, when things go right then life is good and we feel happy. But when life’s difficulties arise relying on happiness to feel good no longer works.
Joy is a deeper inner effervescence and our natural state of being. It is loving life, loving who we are, loving what is, unconditionally. Happiness is “if/then” thinking whereas joy is “I have” thinking. Joy is not complicated, it can be invoked by a beautiful sunset, stirring music, a sky full of stars or the purring of a cat. When we feel joyful your brain floods your body with dopamine and serotonin. Learning how to embrace joy can help you to lead a happier and healthier life. However no-one is joyful 24/7 and there are times when maybe joy must be a choice rather waiting for it to arrive spontaneously.
So consider what brings you joy or consider some of these action points from the Dru Yoga book “The Dance Between Joy and Pain“:
- Each morning choose to appreciate everything life brings.
- Deliberately create situations that make you feel joyful.
- Develop your vocabulary to include more strongly joyful words.
- Regularly feel and affirm your gratitude, maybe a gratitude journal.
- Meditate on your experience of joy (think of a pet!)
- Laugh, an authentic laugh always gives rise to joy.
- Sing, dance, run, skip, play and watch a funny movie.
- Spend time alone in nature.
- Nurture yourself and make sure you are well rested.
- Set yourself a goal to help at least one person every day.
- Choose to do things that take you towards your highest purpose.
You might also like to practice a morning intention setting each day:
- Sit comfortably on a chair or the floor.
- Close your eyes if that feels comfortable.
- Notice your breath, the rise and fall of your abdomen.
- Ask yourself what brings you joy?
- Then state your intention for the day.
If nothing comes to mind you might like to silently affirm to yourself these four lines adapted from the traditional Tibetan prayer of The Four Immeasurables, which has guided many in their journey to more compassion and greater happiness:
May all beings attain happiness.
May all beings be free from suffering.
May all beings never be separated from joy.
May all beings abide in equanimity.
There are many obstacles to joy including physical pain, suffering and mental pain. It might be helpful to think of joy as a way of developing mental immunity. There is evidence to show that there is a link between mental health and your immune system. For myself this low mood and depression definitely seemed prevalent after I had COVID in July 2022. That along with brain fog, pain in my joints and feelings of fatigue. There is an interesting read on depression after COVID in the New York Times as the World Health Organisation noted that anxiety and depression has increased by 25% across the globe. There are so many different states of mind, diverse thoughts and emotions we experience on a daily basis. Some of these thoughts and emotions are harmful, even toxic, while others are healthy and healing. The former disturb our mind and cause much mental pain, the latter bring us true joyfulness.
A movement based practice from Dru Yoga is to give yourself an energy shower to awaken joy. Stand comfortably in mountain posture with fingertips touching in front of the abdomen. As you breathe raise the arms overhead up the midline of the body. Turn the palms upwards as you visualise connecting with sunlight. On an outbreath turn the palms downwards and draw them down the midline of the body, past the crown of the head, brow, throat and heart. Visualise absorbing light and joy into every cell. Affirming “joy fills my heart, joy fills my mind, joy fills my life.”
So instead of merry and happy may I wish you all a joyful Christmas and New Year!
And joy is everywhere
It is in the earth’s green covering of grass
In the blue serenity of the sky
In the reckless exuberance of spring
In the severe abstinence of grey winter
In the living flesh that animates our bodily frame
In the perfect poise of the human figure noble and upright
In the exercise of all our powers
In the acquisition of knowledge
In fighting evils…
Joy is there everywhere