Joy: the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.
Sympathetic Joy: joy in the basic goodness of all beings, and joy in the fundamental well-being of ourselves and others; the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.
We humans certainly are experts in the field of negativity. We are apparently addicted to our destructive and disturbing emotions (anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, stress, worry, judgement, etc), and forever swayed by the tricks our egos play on us in order to keep us afraid, weak, and separate. We spend lots of time and energy — consciously or not — practicing negativity in our thoughts, words and actions. We have put in our 10,000 hours, and do NOT need any more rehearsal.
But how often do we dwell on, immerse in, go on and on about, spend emotional and mental energy on, and generally nurture and cultivate our positive emotions like happiness, contentment and joy? Often enough to make a difference and strengthen these muscles, habits and brain connections? How many potentially joyful experiences are we either missing altogether, or even just minimizing and rushing through so we can get on to the “really important stuff”? How much joy are we letting seep through our fingers every single day, when we could instead be filling our cup all the way to the brim?
Given all the naturally-occurring beauty, magic and love in the world around us, we have access to a source of joy and well-being that is basically infinite and available at all times. Some go so far as to say it is our birth-right to be happy. But there is work involved. We have to remember to tap into what’s already there. To open our eyes, ears, hearts and minds to it. And to be willing to truly receive it. We have to PRACTICE.
I started to think about this in the context of children and what they learn from our modeling, and what we can learn from their pronounced ability to stay in the moment and feel things fully. Maybe we can help each other! So here is a simple exercise we can do with our families called Take a Joy Walk. I hope you will try it out with your family, and that in the mix of whatever life is bringing you right now, and whatever you are bringing to life, you are able to move toward more balance between the negative and the positive.
Take a Joy Walk – The Practice
Some time this week, set aside 45 minutes to Take a Joy Walk.
Start by sitting with your child somewhere comfortable, either snuggled up or in one of your mindful-body spots (meditation cushions, cozy blankets and pillows, etc.) Talk to them about joy and happiness and take turns naming a few things that make you each feel joyful and happy (people, places, experiences).
You can also feel joy for another’s happiness (sympathetic joy). Come up with an example or two of a situation where you felt joyful or happy for someone else.
Talk about why all these things make you feel happy and joyful. Take a few deep breaths, smiling, and say together:
Joy fills my mind.
Joy fills my body.
Joy fills my heart.
Joy fills my world.
Now go for a short walk in your neighborhood (it’s nice to do it close to home to establish Joyful Noticing right where you are, but of course anywhere will work.) As you walk, pay close attention and notice everything around you. When something makes you feel happy/joyful, call it out. Some examples:
When I hear the birds sing to each other, I feel joy.
When I see a flower growing through a crack in the sidewalk, I feel joy.
When I feel the warm sun shining on my face, I feel joy.
When I meet a cute dog and he sniffs my hand, I feel joy.
When I notice a tree reaching for the sky, I feel joy.
When I hold your hand, I feel joy.
After each Joyful Noticing, stop to really Pay Attention by focusing on your breathing while enjoying the experience. Breathe deeply into your belly three times and allow yourself to completely fill up with joy and wonder.
Try to notice at least three things during your walk. Take your time. The distance you travel is not as important as the attention you pay along the way.
When you return home, sit together and draw a picture of something you saw on your walk that filled you up with Joy. Save these pictures and make a Joy Journal with them that you can look at from time to time. Or choose a wall in your home to hang up Joy Art, creating an ever-changing Joy Gallery evidencing your basic human capacity for Joy.
And if you feel like dancing your joy after all this practice, Happy Fluffy will take you there!