476 A.D. the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was overthrown by a Germanic leader, and the western half of the empire fell into ruins. Trade routes were cut off, the economy came to a screeching halt, and agricultural production plummeted. It was the beginning of what is now known as the “Dark Ages.”
As the world descended into chaos, a glimmer of hope came from Christians who were reminded that “their hope is not of this world.” Their solution was to create communities that were devoted to intentional practices that cultivated their soul. This would give them stability in a world of chaos.
These communities were called monasteries, and the intentional practices were disciplines.
As the world around them was crumbling, the disciplines of the monks kept them grounded and focused on the development of their moral and spiritual character.
Today, disciplines still function as intentional practices to shape our mental faculties and moral character. They provide stability in a world where we aren’t guaranteed anything. If committed to, disciplines can orient our minds to experience joy in an inconsistent, unstable world.
It sounds weird to link the word discipline and joy together. One sounds morose and one embodies happiness.
But in my study of joy, I discovered that joy requires intentionality. If we let the world around us determine our emotional state, it’s not joy. It’s happiness, which is just as fleeting as our circumstances. Joy is developed from the inside out, which means, we need practices to develop our inner world.
If you want to cultivate a habit of joy, consider adding these intentional disciplines into your daily life…
If joy is the result of hope, then the more connected we are to our future, the more joy we’ll have. But how can we better hope in the future?
This is where the discipline of visualization comes in. Visualization is the practice of making your ideal future more concrete in your mind. You start by imagining your ideal future identity that’s not a fanciful version of who you are. This person must match your values of today, as a study from psychologist, Hal Ersner-Hershfield, found.
Start detailing the future identity of the person who achieves your life goals. The more familiar you are with that future, the more you prime your mind to create it. This gives us joy as our hope in the future becomes more concrete.
Journaling every day has quickly become my go-to practice for daily joy. And it’s proven by science to be effective. Several studies reveals journaling helps heal trauma, reduce stress, increase health, and much more.
To journal effectively, you can ask yourself how you’re feeling, record learning lessons and gratitudes, or just write about your daily experience. But the act of writing about life is proven to increase your joy.
Meditation is also an important practice for joy. In a busy world, meditation can help us slow down and center ourselves. And again, it’s proven by science to be effective. Studies show that meditation reduces stress and anxiety and also improves our quality of life.
Slowing down for just a few moments and be mindful of the present moment can help you calm your brain down so you live a more joyful life, focused on the positive.
In their book, Lead Yourself First, authors Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin, define solitude as isolating your mind from the input of other minds. In this sense, solitude is not about a physical isolation where you shut yourself away in a cabin. You can practice solitude by pursuing your own thoughts in the middle of a coffee shop.
In today’s busy and information-heavy world, we are constantly surrounded by input. We have social media, texts, podcasts, news, and several other sources to keep our minds busy. This deadens our ability to listen to our own minds, find what we have to say.
With solitude, we can reclaim alignment with ourselves and the contribution we can make, which increases our inner joy.
Have you ever been in a state where you were completely absorbed in what you were doing? You might’ve experience what psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, defines as flow. Flow is a mental state where you are totally immersed in an activity.
In his book, Flow, Csikszentmihalyi says that flow is the result of an optimal experience, a time where our mind and/or body experiences deep enjoyment by being stretched to its limit. This experience is something we can make happen. We can pursue activities that give us flow, and thus, increase our joy and happiness in the present moment.
You can enter a state of flow by finding an activity that gives you that optimal experience, and commit to doing it every day.
Physical exercise has long been noted as being one of the best ways to increase happiness. But exercise does not have to be strenuous to give you benefits. Studies show that just going on a small walk can make you happier.
This is important to note because conventional wisdom would say that exercising about 3 times a week would counter the effects of sitting all day, every day. But studies reveal that exercise like this is not the antidote to the harmful effects of sitting. Consistent movement is.
Our bodies were made to move, even if just a little. But today’s society forces us to sit in the same position every day. Instead of guilting yourself to go to the gym more often, just make it a discipline to move your body.
7. Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is about paying attention to what you are putting in your body. It is not a practice of restriction or diet-culture, but mainly choosing to be conscious and aware of what food you are eating and how you are eating it.
In his book, Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink reveals that when people eat alone they are more likely to have a large binge feeding. There are also several studies that find a link to eating alone and poor diets. One reason is, when we are alone, we’re more likely to eat for emotional comfort rather than finding foods that are more nutritious for us. As we deprive our bodies of the necessary nutrients, we fall more prone to impaired mental health.
Mindless eating only hurts us. Mindful eating helps us become aware of what we are putting in our bodies and how. And as we take care of our bodies, we also take care of our minds and help them find joy.
The discipline of joy
Joy itself is a discipline. The world around us, as uncertain and unstable as it is, can produce an anxiety in our spirits. If we want to live a healthier, more joyful life, we must be intentional about it. To do this, it’s best we pursue practices that orient our minds toward happiness.
This list of practices is only scratching the surface. There are several disciplines that make joy easier in the present. The best way to start incorporating these in your daily life is not to start doing all of them, but find the ones that correlate with your values.
Choose a handful of disciplines to intentionally practice every day, and your mind will start to lean in a more positive direction.