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In his 2012 book, Awakening Joy, James Baraz reminds us that it is possible to cultivate joy in everyday life. Our lives may cycle through triumphs and hardships, but there’s no reason to operate from a place of perpetual suffering, punctuated by moments of joy. Instead, it’s possible for joy to be our default mode, even if sometimes interrupted by human moments of sorrow. 

The following James Baraz quotes from Awakening Joy are each accompanied by a brief video. May they inspire you to turn towards the mindfulness practices that will further open your heart to joy. 

“When we pay attention to wholesome states, they increase.”

Baraz’s book begins with the call to incline our minds toward joy. It’s the practice of mindfulness which makes this possible. Our minds have a negativity bias which once functioned to protect us. Mostly, it causes us to ruminate on moments of hardship, which prevents us from seeing the joy that’s so readily available.

Through mindfulness, we strengthen our self-awareness. Not only do we notice when we’re unnecessarily dwelling on the bad, but we open our field of perception to more of the good. When something’s on our mind, we notice it more. By intentionally seeking joy, even in the tiniest moments, we nourish the ability to notice joy more often.

Learn to focus your attention with the following video on breath awareness. Then, apply this newfound mindfulness to the daily recognition of joy.  

“A grateful heart is a joyful heart.”

When we train the mind to spot joy, we begin to notice joy all around us. Similarly, when we intentionally cultivate gratitude, our hearts open to the sheer magnitude of all we have to be grateful for. As our gratitude practice matures, we find reasons to be grateful even amidst life’s most difficult challenges.

Living in gratitude prevents us from taking anything for granted. Every small accomplishment becomes a reason to give thanks, and we develop a greater sense of contentment. We no longer depend upon the arising of a future set of circumstances before connecting to joy. The greatful, joyful heart is available to experience joy in the present moment.

Deepen your present-moment gratitude with the following meditation. Practice it daily, and watch how your life unfolds into greater joy.

“Not resisting the pain of negative states of mind is an act of bravery that allows them to dissolve.”

Mindfulness and gratitude are our partners in developing the capacity to be present with our current circumstances and state of mind, whatever that may be. We develop a sense of acceptance that’s grounded in present-moment reality. By accepting reality as it is, we give ourselves and our circumstances the opportunity to evolve.

Joy is not something outside of ourselves we must fight for, it’s intrinsic to our nature and lives within us. When we cease fighting the states of mind that obscure joy, we no longer give them power. In the space of mindfulness, our hardships dissipate and joy is revealed.

Learn how to be present with challenging emotions without being overwhelmed by them. You are not your emotions, you are a joyful being in which challenging emotions sometimes arise

“If you want to be happy, don’t intentionally cause suffering to yourself or others.” 

Happy people don’t hurt others. And if we keep hurting others, we’ll never be happy. Minimizing the harm we cause others, either physically, with our words, or in our minds, reduces our suffering. Acting with integrity reduces our stress, calms the minds, and allows us to relax. We can take this one step further by not only ceasing to harm others, but by intentionally bringing them joy. Sharing joy with others is a surefire way to feel good ourselves. 

While Baraz emphasizes that mindfulness is not about religion per se, there’s a good reason why each of the world’s authentic religions present a code of ethics as a foundation for cultivating a happy, joyful life. Being kind releases us from the drama that might otherwise obscure our joy.

Watch this four minute video in which Baraz discusses the influence of ethics, kindness, and integrity and why it’s important we not leave these out of our mindfulness practice.

“Circumstances change, we change, things change, and letting go of what we’re holding on to can be a great relief. It is also the road to happiness.”

Anything we’re attached to in this life will one day become a source of suffering. The physical objects we carry with us will get lost, old, or damaged. Our jobs and our relationships will change. Our own bodies will become old and sick. When we learn to let go we accept the fact that this change is coming, and our hearts and minds can be at peace. Then, when the inevitable happens, it's far less crushing. 

We also carry with us a set of expectations, and a particular identity or history of stories. Letting go of this opens us up to a world of potential. To let go of our past is freeing and purifying, we can be the joyful people we’ve always wanted to be. When we let go of expectations we gain possibilities. No matter how things turn out, there’s a chance they’re moving in just the way they are supposed to.

In the following video, Tara Brach leads a guided meditation on letting life be. Anchoring awareness to the body in the present moment helps us increase our capacity to let go and be with things as they are.

“Speaking kindly to yourself is one of the most important ways to bring more joy into your life”

Self-compassion is a prerequisite for joy. We deserve to be happy. We may have a history of thinking joy is a frivolous pursuit, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. When we open ourselves to joy, we become humans who give and share joy with the world. On the contrary, there’s nothing more selfish than remaining contracted and trapped in an energy of pain and victimhood. Joy transforms us from helpees into helpers

But our compassion for others won’t function until we can extend compassion to ourselves. Embracing our full humanity allows us to let go of what Baraz calls the ‘anxiety about non-perfection.’ Our flaws become gifts we can learn from, and a potential means of connecting with others.

Learn to befriend yourself with a guided mindfulness exercise led by psychologist and author Rick Hanson. We can only truly love others to the extent we love ourselves.

“Connection with others is one of the most important sources of joy.”

Human beings are wired for relationships. Our relationships with others are often our most accessible portals to joy. Sympathetic joy, or mudita in Sanskrit, is the ability to relish in the joy of others. Letting go of jealousy, envy, or ill-will reminds us that joy is not in limited supply, available only to the winners. Joy is infinite, abundant, and easily available through the process of recognizing it in another.

Human beings are wired for relationships. Our relationships with others are often our most accessible portals to joy. Sympathetic joy, or mudita in Sanskrit, is the ability to relish in the joy of others. Letting go of jealousy, envy, or ill-will reminds us that joy is not in limited supply, available only to the winners. Joy is infinite, abundant, and easily available through the process of recognizing it in another.

Just like mindfulness or gratitude, compassion is something we can develop with practice. In the following video, Joseph Goldstein leads a guided meditation on mudita. May it teach you to share more freely in the joy of others.

“Build the foundation for a mind that needs no entertainment to enjoy the moment.”

We frequently make the mistake of thinking joy exists only in the far-off future. In our confusion, we view joy as a side effect of getting the new job, the bigger house, or the right relationship. But joy isn’t out there ahead waiting for us to catch up. Joy exists within us, and is waiting for us to stop, pay attention, and notice. 

Mindfulness teaches us to quiet the mind and be present. It’s in this state of calm and presence we’re most likely to spot joy. Through mindfulness, we learn the power behind being versus doing. When we relax and open our hearts to presence, we’re available to experience awe, and a deep, felt sense of the infinite presence of joy.

Insert more pauses into your life with the following mindfulness exercise on simply stopping. This foundational practice teaches us to be present in the here and now, the only place where we’ll encounter true joy.

To read James Baraz’s book on Awakening Joy or to participate in his 5-month course, visit the Awakening Joy website.

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