12 Mindful Ways to Cultivate Joy Today
Can you find joy in the Himalayas? Yes.
Can you find joy at Google? Apparently so.
Also, you might find peace of mind, inner freedom and emotional resiliency!
Exactly — I thought Google was all about gourmet cafeterias, onsite dry-cleaning and speedy search results for information you were seeking.
But it’s also the former home of employee 107, Chade-Meng Tan, a senior Google engineer-cum-stand-up comedian, wise-guru, mindfulness teacher and peace activist.
Chade-Meng Tan, a.k.a. Meng, led the creation of a mindfulness curriculum in his spare time at Google and led the mindfulness program within the company.
Joy begins as easily as one simple mindful breath — when you notice yourself taking a deep breath in and breathing out. Once you take the one breath, you’ve created joyful relaxation.
From this one breath and place of relaxation, Professor Meng, who comes across as a mix between the Buddha and a stand-up comedian, shares other tips to experience joy in your life today.
12 Ways to Cultivate Joy Today
1. Joy begins with your first mindful breath.
Meng promises that you can seriously start changing your life with one simple breath. “Take one slow, deep breath. For the duration of that one breath, give your full attention to your breath in a gentle way.” This practice will help induce calmness and relaxation.
2. Train your mind to see joy.
Meng writes that you can get used to joy but first you have to get familiar with joy. All you have to do is start noticing joy. In your everyday life, start noticing those experiences of joy and take note of them. “The more you notice these thin slices of joy, the more they appear to be everywhere, because they have always been there. You just never noticed them before.”
3. Attending to joy.
Let’s say you’ve started noticing experiences of joy. What next? Meng suggests ratcheting up your concentration and focusing on the joy you’re experiencing. “To addend to joy is to go one step further which is to consolidate joy in the mind. The way to do that is with intensity of attention. All you need to do is to pay intense attention to joy, that is all.”
4. Smiling towards joy.
Our facial expressions reflect the emotional states we’re in. If you’re upset, your face will show it. The same when you’re angry, sad or happy. Meng suggests a reverse technique of smiling and sending a message to the body that we are filled with joy. “Smile as if you are really happy,” he advises. “When you do this, you may create changes in the automatic nervous system relating to happiness, and from these changes, you may experience joy.”
5. Meditating towards joy.
Meng refers to ancient texts, like the Upanisa Sutta, to show us that a focused mind can lead to joy. Concentration can lead to joy and joy can lead to more focused concentration, or meditation. “Once you start the cycle running, they reinforce each other and lead you into a deeper practice and a more joyful life.” Meng encourages you to use joy to meditate and to use meditation to live a joyful life.
6. “Doing the right thing” towards joy.
Yes, being a good and ethical person can contribute to joy. When your conscience is clear and you are acting in the highest good, you are more likely to experience joy. Bring your full attention to the joy that comes from ethical behavior. Take a minute to reflect to yourself, “I have done an ethical thing. My conscience is clear. I am happy.”
7. Noticing pleasant experiences.
When you’re doing something that is pleasant and that you enjoy, take at least one moment to notice it and observe it. Take in the joy of that first bite of food, the hot water that first touches your skin in the shower or the first instance your head hits the pillow at night. “When seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or touching something pleasant,” Meng suggests, “bring full attention to the joy for at least one moment, and when interacting with a beloved person, bring full attention to the joy of being with that person for at least one moment.” The idea here is to simply enjoy the small pleasures of life and to be grateful for them.
8. Don’t take joy for granted.
There are so many positive and pleasant things that occupy our lives but often we forget about them and think about the things that are lacking or hurting in our lives. In addition to paying attention and being grateful, remind yourself of your mortality. Knowing that you’re going to leave the earth someday puts everything into perspective. It will help you prioritize what matters in life and shift your perspective in the way you view things.
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked,” Meng tells us. “There is no reason not to follow your heart.” He also mentions that knowing you’re going to die will help you get over your desire to stay angry with a loved one. Reminding yourself that you and everyone you know will die someday can be a sobering thought but can also wake you up to living more joyfully!
9. The joy of not being in pain.
When you’re experiencing pain, all you want is to be relieved of that pain. You’ll do anything to release the pain, but when it goes away, you slowly forget that you were suffering or that you had pain in the first place. One of the biggest freedoms that Meng enjoyed — and a wakeup call he had — was realizing that he was temporarily free from pain one day. You can train your mind to look for the absence of pain in your life. When you check in with your body and don’t notice any pain, remind yourself that you are pain-free. Attend to any joy that arises from the absence of pain.
10. The joy of wishing others happiness.
Meng offers this powerful practice as another way to cultivate joy. I’ve already started implementing this in my life and have noticed immediate results. Wishing happiness for someone else can bring you joy. All you have to do is randomly identify two people in your life and secretly wish them happiness. Meng asks you to think to yourself: ‘I wish for this person to be happy, and I wish for that person to be happy.’ You can do this often, repeatedly and throughout the day to maximize the joy you feel.
11. The joy of compassion.
Compassion is the happiest mental state ever measured in the history of neuroscience! If joyfulness is indeed a joy-inducing state, how do you cultivate it? Think of anyone you know who is experiencing pain and bring attention to his or her pain. If you’re able to experience this sadness in a neutral way, do so. Otherwise, feel the emotions of sadness about the pain. “If it gets too uncomfortable, shift your attention away from the experience of sadness to the sensations in the body. If even that is too uncomfortable for you,” writes Meng, “feel free to disengage from this sadness at any time.” If you’re doing the compassion exercise and notice selfless love arising, pay attention to it. This kind of love is like a loving parent or grandparent cradling a sick child.
12. The joy of wishing others well.
Celebrating the good fortune of others, as difficult as it may be, can bring you joy. You can also celebrate the good things that come out of your own altruistic deeds. Think about and celebrate the good deeds of others. Reflect on the good deeds and the good intentions behind the deeds. Take delight in your own good intentions and deeds. Whenever you see altruism and people doing good, take some time to notice and celebrate it. Feel happiness out of your own good deeds and the goodness of others.
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