Life seems complicated these days.
Our lives are filled with the busyness of searching for happiness in many things, yet it’s possible that the very pursuit is taking us further away from the goal.
We think happiness arrives at a point in the future when our lives become perfect, with a backdrop of fireworks and fanfare, without any disasters or annoyances. It’s often a lot more subtle and smaller than that.
I spent many years following society’s recipe for happiness and trying to fit in, to be someone else, to pursue the dreams of success in my work and my relationships.
I collected material things, went on nice holidays, often at the cost of what really mattered, and I was left unfulfilled as a result. I was so busy chasing happiness, I missed out on moments of joy.
It wasn’t until a life-changing emergency operation that I learnt to slow down, stop, and celebrate small wins, until life started to return to normal again.
We’re all so busy these days. It gives us our sense of self-worth; if we’re busy, we’re successful, we’re accomplishing things, we feel we’re important, and we feel like we’re needed.
As a result we can often be too busy to notice if we are happy, and potential moments of joy pass us by.
“ When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
- Gautama Buddha
Maybe you’ve never thought about it before, but there is a distinct difference between happiness and joy.
Happiness is a cognitive experience based in the brain’s cortex. It’s a state of mind, which comes and goes easily. Happiness activates the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the brain’s fight-or-flight response – it feels exciting and stimulating to the body.
Joy, on the other hand, is a subconscious experience, an emotion based in the brain’s limbic system. Joy activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls rest and relaxation – it feels calming and soothing to the body. Since the experience of joy has such a strong physical component, there are a number of proven ways you can increase the chances of finding joy…
So just how do we find more joy within our own lives and ensure we have a more frequent joyful experience to create a life filled with happiness?
Gratitude: Frequent appreciation decreases the stress hormone cortisol and calms the amygdala (fear sensor) in the brain. If we appreciate all that we’re fortunate to have, we will experience more joy.
Being present: In a world where multitasking is seen as a necessary skill, being mindful is the opposite. There’s always joy to be found, even in the mundane moments of the day.
Self-care: Our nutrition is so important, as is getting enough sleep and regular exercise. Adopting a more active lifestyle is a proven way to increase the brain chemicals associated with well-being. Yoga, meditation, and regular walks are just some of the ways to keep you strong.
Enjoyment: Do things you love every day, spend time with those who nourish your soul, learn new things, take time out for you.
Let go: Sometimes we feel we need to have things in order to be free, when in fact it’s the opposite. There can also be things within us that we need to let go of. This can be hurt or anger from the past, or limiting beliefs about ourselves.
Look within: We have a tendency to look for inspiration externally, yet we have infinite potential within. We are capable of amazing things if we stop doubting our abilities. Often, it’s during our biggest challenges that we find out just how much strength we possess.
So, why not spend moments in each day to write down where you found joy. This can either be in the morning, in the evening, or throughout the day.
By taking small steps to change a negative state of mind, you can create a radical shift in your emotional experience, and quite quickly, a significant change in your present moment.
Thinking positive thoughts, which lead to new behaviours, we create new patterns in our brains, which ultimately translate into a new experience of life.
As Albert Einstein said, "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
No matter how bleak things may seem, often a slight shift in our perspective is all we need.
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