I was watching Jack Hanna’s Animal Kingdom show recently, and was truly amazed by the amount of joy and wonder Hanna expresses for the animal kingdom and for those who are intent on helping animals. Here was a grown man literally jumping for joy like a little kid when an Elephant Conservation plane in Kenya flew overhead on its way to check out the elephants’ whereabouts and population status. What an inspiration!

But what about you?

How much joy do you really feel or experience on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? When was the last time you jumped for joy? When was the last time you let out an unbridled “yahoo!!” Or “yippee!” or wow!!? Was it when a team you were rooting for won the game? When your child took his/her first steps? When you had a satisfying romantic interlude after a very long dry spell?

Fill in the blank: The last time I jumped for joy was_______________

If you have trouble thinking of any recent occasions of joy, maybe it’s time to examine your life a bit.

Joy is our basic state of being, beneath all of the busy-ness and problems of our lives. Children seem to naturally have it in them to let out a yelp of delight at the events of what we as adults might consider “ordinary life”—waves at the beach, birds drinking at a fountain, dogs at play—even a set of ordinary wooden spoons can bring fascination and delight.

Can we, as adults weighed down by the seemingly burdensome task of living, find awe, wonder and delight in the simplicity of life?

It may not seem like there’s much to celebrate these days, and many of us feel joyless under the burden of relationship and financial issues, social and political unrest at home and abroad—it might seem to us that there’s not much to cheer about.

There’s another way to look at these circumstances, however; that is, with the intent of doing your part and being of service in the best way that you can. It’s not necessary to light everyone else’s candle or put everyone else’s oxygen mask on first, but you can, by clearing your mind and searching for and allowing occasions of joy, metaphorically light your own candle and put on your own oxygen mask, allowing yourself the freedom to help others.

In difficult times, or just day to day, you can, with mindful intention, provide an example of right action and positive thinking, an opportunity for others to think and choose differently for themselves.

Maintaining our own inner light, through right action, right thinking, and right speech without ego-involved judgments can help others see, feel and hear the joy within themselves. When we are cheerful, our cheer infuses our bodies, our space and those around who are open to it.

This is only possible, however, if you have learned how to access your own joy. I’ve woken myself up from sleep by giggling at least five times in the last four years (I’d like to do that more, it’s quite fun, actually), but at one time I used to have nightmares and disturbed nights of sleep. I had to work to find my own inner wellspring of joy. So how did I do that?

Joy can be obtained from utilizing both internal and external resources:

(For the physiological basis of the suggestions below, read [and enjoy] The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Brain Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and Live—and How You Can Change Them, by Dr. Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley.)

1. Smile: that’s right, bust out a smile. It takes fewer facial muscles to smile than it does to frown. The act of smiling, it turns out, actually changes our physiology, which in turn begins to changes our emotional state. It’s important to remember, however, that the body can distinguish between a real smile and a fake one. (Hint: a real one involves the eye muscles, not just the mouth.)

According to the research of Professor Marianne LaFrance, the physical act of smiling affects the neural processing of emotional stimuli and in turn activates the happiness circuitry of our brain. It was also observed that genuine smiles directly evoked smiles from others. Keeping a smile in your heart also goes a long way in the non-physical expression of who you are to those around you.

2. Socialize: spend time socializing and interacting with others of like-minded ideas and beliefs. Researchers have found that people who were the happiest regularly engaged in twice as many deep and meaningful conversations as their less happy peers.

According to Cassie Mogilner, researcher in the marketing department of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania:

“Laboratory and field experiments revealed that implicitly activating the construct of time motivates individuals to spend more time with friends and family and less time working— behaviors that are associated with greater happiness. In contrast, implicitly activating money motivates individuals to work more and socialize less, which (although productive) does not increase happiness.”

3. Sweat: yes, good old fashioned sweating from some form of physical activity, be it sexercise—sex can be a wonderful way to detox and let the endorphins flow—or just playing outdoors with friends. I have a friend who walks to the park and hula-hoops for an hour or so each afternoon; it’s a good giggle for the day. It seems to be easier to engage in physical exercise with a friend or group. Perhaps you can combine all three—smile, socialize and sweat within a group activity.

4. Cultivate compassion and forgiveness: In your meditations and intentions, be mindful of occasions to open your heart and show compassion to yourself and/or others. You can also create more space and joy for yourself by allowing yourself to finally let go of a long-time grudge or hurt (which over time hurts you much more than the grudgee).

Again, whatever form of these activities you choose, go at it with a smile in your heart. You can put one there by thinking of someone you love, or by sending invisible good wishes and friendship to other people or to all beings.

Now fill in the blank:

I let out an unbridled Yahoo!!, Yippee!!, Wow!, or jumped for joy today at ________________(time).

Many Blessings ~ Melinda

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