Four Steps to Finding Joy

“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.”
― Ransom Riggs

When we think about what we want for ourselves and those we love, the answer is often happiness. Ironically, our endless pursuit of happiness often results in unhappiness. This may be because we are searching for the wrong thing and looking for it in the wrong places. My mindfulness practice has helped me find incredible joy in the most surprising places. Below is some of what I have learned that I hope will help you find greater joy in the new year, starting right now.

Step one is accepting the truth that we are not always supposed to be happy. Being human means feeling all sorts of feelings. Yet, our culture pushes the belief that if you are unhappy, something must be wrong with you or the world around you. The refusal to accept unpleasant emotions as normal and our constant efforts to replace them with positive emotions throw us into an endless cycle of always trying to fix or solve perceived problems so that we can then be happy. If we wait for all of our problems to be solved to be happy, we will be waiting a very long time. So, step one in finding happiness is to give yourself permission to accept and experience all of your emotions as they come and go.

Step two is to check where it is you are looking for happiness. We often look in all the wrong places. We look for happiness in the achievement of goals, like a promotion at work, buying a new home, or a long-awaited vacation. Or, we look to our relationships and other people to make us happy. When we do, our happiness is conditional and dependent, outside of our control, and often one step out of reach. The best place to find true happiness is within yourself, and the best time to find it is right now. You don’t have to get somewhere else or accomplish something to find it.

Step three is to better understand what it is you are searching for. So far, I have used the word happiness to describe what we seek. However, happiness usually involves the self and the accomplishment of a goal that results in a feeling of happiness. We find, however, that this feeling is short-lived, and we quickly begin looking for the next thing to achieve, accomplish or acquire to feel it again. I prefer to think of joy as what we are seeking. Joy is long-lasting and deeply felt. Joy comes from feelings of gratitude, love, and contentment. It is not dependent on some event or circumstance but results from an appreciation of what you already have. Instead of looking to find happiness one day in the future, you can feel joy right now.

Step four is to find joy in your life every day. This is surprisingly simple, costs nothing, and can be done anytime, anywhere. The only place to find joy is in the present moment. Yet our minds are constantly in motion, thinking about the future or stuck in the past. Research shows that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. So, start by pausing throughout your day and bringing your attention into the present moment, where your life is actually happening. Then, notice what is here right now. You will find that there is always something to appreciate, savor and be grateful for in the present moment. Don’t look for extraordinary things. Instead, notice the simple things we too often overlook, take for granted, or are too busy to notice. These are the things that can bring you deep and lasting joy – the food you eat, the breath in your body, the clean water you drink, the friends or relatives who love you, the sunshine on your skin, or the blue sky above, to name just a few. Feel all the feelings of joy, appreciation, and gratitude in every cell of your body. We are very good at feeling difficult emotions, but we rarely pause to feel all those good feelings. So, pause throughout your day, be present in the moment to notice all you have right now, and feel the joy in that.

Don’t wait to find joy. Learn to make your everyday days extraordinary by finding all the joy right here waiting for you!