Finding lasting joy in our lives can be a challenge when we see that the world is full of suffering. This can be especially true, if you engage in watching/reading daily news, which typically focuses on wars, disasters and heart-wrenching stories that cause anxiety, distress and feeling hopeless. According to researcher and psychology professor, Mary McNaughton-Cassill, daily news can distort your perception of reality (ie. we can assume that things are more dangerous than they really are) and cause emotional distress.
And even if you are not a daily consumer of news, our nervous system itself has a negativity bias. We are actually wired to pay more attention to negative events and remember them more. Understandably, it was more important for our survival to learn avoiding danger than to be happy. This makes cultivating a happier life, just that bit harder. But fear not, there is much that we can do to have more joy in our lives. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama came up with an invaluable list, referred to as ‘the eight pillars of joy’, which I’d like to share with you here. The following attitudes and qualities are their ingredients for a life brimming with joy:
Open up to the lives and perspectives of others. You can feel more empathy, understanding and tolerance towards people from all walks of life and all corners of the world, with this attitude. Willing to consider other people’s views, will increase your sense of shared humanity and connection – and will do wonders to your relationships and life in general.
Not being preoccupied with hierarchy amongst people and proving our superiority to others, will greatly reduce stress and distress in our lives. Seeing everyone (including yourself) as valuable in their own unique way will help you truly connect and cooperate with others, as equals. Instead of consciously/unconsciously competing with everyone all the time, you can just relax and start enjoying your life more.
It’s easy to see that the ability to laugh at troubles and at ourselves will make our lives more lighthearted and joyous. Not taking ourselves too seriously and being able to see the ridiculous in difficult situations will truly lighten the load in your life and bring healing laughter, when you need it the most. On top of that, laughter not only paves the way to more joy, but our health will significantly benefit as well, according to many studies.
Accepting our life as it is, does not mean that we give up on improving our situation and the world around us. It is more about being able to accept that life itself and every one of us is far from perfect. When we can simply acknowledge how things are, we are not bogged down so much in wishing that things were different. Being at peace with what is not just allows you to enjoy more what you already can. Paradoxically, it also paves the way to positive changes in your life. Spending no energy on fighting the old (in you or in the world), will leave you more energy to create new and better things.
Forgiveness is not about giving up justice or forgetting that bad things happened. It is more about releasing your anger and hatred about injustice and hardship in your past. Forgiveness with yourself and others allows you to process and let go what is painful to carry. This means that you are not letting past hurts to keep hurting you and control your life and open up to enjoy your life in the present – in spite of all that happened to you.
Focusing on your blessings instead of the lack in your life is a sure way towards more happiness. The intentional practice of daily gratitude will counteract our minds natural bias towards negative events and generate instantly those warm and fuzzy feelings we love. We can consciously grow our ability to appreciate things by dedicating time to think of good things and fully feel the positive sensations in our body these thoughts bring. Allowing to linger and luxuriate in the good feelings that conscious gratitude creates will expand our capacity for joy. This is an essential practice, especially if you are not very used to feeling good.
Compassion is our ability to feel concern about suffering in others and ourselves and responding with kindness. The quote “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” by Wendy Mass is such a wonderful reminder of our shared humanity and struggles and for the need for compassion. Easing the suffering of others, will reduce our own suffering too. Interestingly, typically it is more challenging to be compassionate with ourselves than with others. It can be helpful to imagine what would be a kind response, if a good friend would be in a similar situation and be kind the same way with ourselves. Compassion feels good, whether we give it or receive it – making this an essential pillar of joy in life.
Giving to others grows happiness. In this sense, even money can buy happiness, when we spend it on others, and research supports this. Luckily, it doesn’t matter whether we can give small or big, our generosity with others will feel good to us, as well. People with a generosity of the spirit tend to thrive in life. If charity does not come easily to you, it can be helpful to think of ourselves as merely stewards of our gifts and possessions. Remember that when you spread your blessings around, you will multiply the joy those blessings will bring.
Connect for Joy
Perhaps you already noticed a general theme in all these attitudes. These foundations of lasting happiness mostly seem to do with our sense of connection with others and with life in general. Joy does not tend to grow in isolation. Luckily though even when you are alone you can engage more positively with people and the world at large. And doing that, you will be paving way not just for more joy for you but a better world for everyone, as well.
This article was inspired by The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, which is based on conversations between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.