“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it everyday.” – Henri Nouwen
One day many years ago, I was taking a shortcut through a car park. A sudden spontaneous thought came into my mind with such force that I actually said the words out loud, to no one in particular: “I’m so ANGRY!”
Hearing those words stopped me in my tracks. I knew I’d said them, but I couldn’t figure out why. Nothing had happened that morning to make me angry, and there was no specific incident the anger was about.
In that moment I saw myself as if my mind had taken a photographic snapshot. There I was, standing in the middle of the car park – jaws clenched, brows knit in a frown, shoulders tensed.
I knew then that anger had become my default state. My most spontaneous thought was one of anger. Until now I have no idea how I’d gotten that way, though I suppose it was the result of allowing the cares of the world to shape my subconscious.
That was many years ago. Today my default state is joyfulness. In my most spontaneous moments, I find myself smiling for no reason at all.
What I’ve learned is that joy is a choice. We can choose to be joyful every day. The good news is that after making this choice often enough, joy becomes our spontaneous, default state.
8 ways to choose joy every day:
1. Be grateful that you woke up today
It’s so easy to take our days for granted because we have so many of them. Yet hundreds of thousands of people did not wake up this morning. We who did are the lucky ones.
When I open my eyes in the morning and can see, hear, breathe, and feel, I say a word of thanks and my day is joyful before I even get out of bed.
2. Start the day with exercise
Researchers found that those who exercise first thing in the morning are more likely to do it regularly than those who schedule exercise later in the day. This is because our daily activities often run late, eating into exercise time.
Nowadays I ride my bike at 5 am a few days a week. It’s hard to get out of bed that early, but well worth the effort. By the time others wake up, I’ve already got adrenaline, endorphins, and serotonin in my system to make me feel joyful.
3. Create an oasis in the morning rush
Most people have a hectic morning routine. Getting the kids ready for school, rushing through breakfast, and commuting in peak hour traffic all add to our stress. Creating an oasis in that mad rush provides the calm we need to feel joyful.
My oasis is reading for a short while, preferably over coffee. I aim to reach my workplace half an hour early, which gives me a little privacy to read in quiet. When I’m late and miss this time, the rest of the day feels like one mad rush.
4. Meditate or pray
Meditation has been scientifically shown to have a huge impact on happiness. Shawn Achor says that meditation helps us “get over the cultural ADHD to focus on the task at hand.” Our minds are constantly over-stimulated, leaving no room for the quiet joy that is our normal state when calm.
While the recommended duration is 20 minutes of meditation daily, even one minute or one breath helps. Find a trigger that helps you meditate or take at least one deep breath. I take a few deep breaths while waiting for my computer to boot up.
5. Make a human connection
The paradox of our times is that we are connecting more with our gadgets and less with other people. One of the findings in Harvard’s popular Positive Psychology course is that we are happier when we stop texting while with friends.
I’m as guilty of being addicted to my phone as the next person. When having coffee or lunch with a friend, I now try to leave my phone in my bag instead of putting it on the table where it tempts me visually. Focusing entirely on my friend increases the quality of our time together, and makes us both happier (and more polite too!)
6. Simplify your choices
From soft drinks to shopping malls to social networks, our society has exploded with an abundance of choices. While some freedom of choice is important for autonomy, too much actually decreases our satisfaction.
Studies show that choosing from six options results in more satisfaction than from thirty options. Choose to eat at a restaurant with a simpler menu, or shop for groceries at a smaller supermarket. When we simplify our life, we save time on decision-making and enjoy our experiences more.
7. Perform a random act of kindness
Happiness levels have been shown to increase by doing 5 random acts of kindness a week. We don’t have to go out of our way to perform acts of kindness. Just choose to say ‘yes’ when presented with an opportunity, rather than turn away.
Drop a note into a busker’s hat, hold the door open for the next person, help someone carry a pram up the stairs, or leave chocolates on a weary colleague’s desk. If you’ve ever done any of this, you know how good it makes you feel!
8. Journal about your gratitudes or positive experiences
Two specific types of journaling have been shown to increase happiness after just one week. One is to keep a gratitude journal and write down three things you are grateful for every day. The other is to reflect on a positive experience that day.
Both these habits train our brains to look out for what is good each day. We are basically re-wiring our brains over time to focus on joyfulness. Gradually, we won’t have to choose joy anymore; we ARE joy.