Joy is not the natural disposition of people in today’s society. We don’t naturally respond to life’s problems with an internal sense of hope. Instead, when negative news hits, we let it sink our spirits.
But what if joy — that internal positivity that stems from hope — could be our default state?
This doesn’t mean we’re always happy. It just means we’re hopeful. When bad news strikes, we can balance the negativity with a belief that everything will turn out okay. A joyful spirit would make us happier, healthier, and more resilient.
In another article I wrote, I shared the 10 mindsets that prevent us from experiencing joy on a daily basis. In this article, I want to share how we can take actions to make joy our default state. Each of the 10 actions addresses a specific mindset.
Here’s how to make joy a habit:
1. Develop a goal-oriented attitude.
Every day can feel like you never stop moving. But are you really moving your life in the direction you want? Or are you just moving — responding to the demands set on you?
There’s a difference between progress and movement. Many people who just move are reacting to their daily demands. But people who move their life in the direction they want make progress.
Goals are the vehicles to building the life we want. They define the direction and set us into motion. With a goal-oriented attitude, you can increase joy by being proactive about your life, instead of wondering where your life went.
2. Take ownership over your choices.
When we abdicate ownership and place blame on forces outside of our control, we not only let problems linger longer, but we also forfeit our potential for growth.
When you take ownership over decisions, you get to learn from situations. But if you blame everyone else to protect your ego, there’s nothing for you to learn.
Now, there will be situations when another party will be entirely to blame. In those times, you can grieve what happened to you, but don’t let it paralyze you. Problems dissipate faster when you take ownership.
3. Engage painful feelings.
It’s natural to flee pain. If something hurts, we generally tend to avoid them. But when it comes to our emotions, this can be detrimental to our health.
Emotional suppression can lead to lower life satisfaction, wellbeing, and health. Why? Because when you suppress emotions, they’re still there. They build up and come out sideways.
If you’ve been conditioned to numb your painful emotions, whether it be through drugs or Netflix, learn to sit in the pain a second longer each time. Engage the tough conversations and painful emotions. Learn what they say about you. And if it helps, seek counseling to process your painful emotions in a healthy way.
As you do this more and more, you’ll find that painful emotions can get easier to bear.
4. Enact boundaries.
Boundaries, as defined by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. James Townsend, are the spiritual and emotional property lines that define where you end and where someone begins.
Much of the drama we face in life stems from someone crossing our boundaries.
Defining what is within your responsibility and what isn’t is critical to reducing the drama you feel in life.
5. Build grit.
Grit is the passion or perseverance to keep moving toward a long-term goal. This is the action that moves us from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset. How?
Failure can be a powerful motivator. If we’ve tried something difficult and failed at it, our minds can resolve to never try that thing again. It’s keeping us safe, but it also locks us into believing our traits are fixed.
The reality is, failure is necessary to growth. We need to learn from our failures, not run from them. To do this, we must push through failure with grit. The more we develop the muscle of grit, the more we rewire our brain to adopt a Growth Mindset — where we’re not afraid to learn and try new things.
6. Practice self-awareness.
Many people believe gratitude is the answer to a Scarcity Mindset. But in my research on joy, I found that gratitude is actually too simple of an answer for solving our Scarcity Mindset. Gratitude won’t instantly move us into an Abundance Mindset.
Instead, what gratitude gives us is the gift of self-awareness. Gratitude actually rolls up into self-awareness.
If we want to get past our Scarcity Mindset, we must first discover what’s causing it. This requires deeper introspection. Once we discover the source, we can then practice the self-awareness of noticing our current circumstances. We can address them and move on.
Practicing self-awareness requires we become curious of our stories. The best way I’ve found to do this is through counseling, journaling, meditation, and personality tests that help you see something you’ve never noticed before.
7. Surround yourself with safe people.
In their book, Safe People, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. James Townsend, describe safe people as empathetic people. These are the people who, when you tell them about your pain, will not respond in criticism. Instead, they’ll respond with, “I’m with you.”
Having people who understand your pain and are willing to walk through it with you is critical to beating shame. Without these connections, we reduce our quality of life, and even, our longevity.
8. Connect and learn people’s true stories.
Comparison typically drives us to distance ourselves from people. When you’re jealous of your neighbor, you avoid your neighbor.
But when we do this, we give more power to the stories in our head. The stories in our head tell us they’re living a perfect life with nothing wrong. This isn’t the truth.
Therefore, the best way to battle comparison is to actually connect with the object of your comparison. Connect with people and learn their true stories. Once you do this, you’ll see how you’re running a different race, and it makes the comparison weigh less on your mind.
9. Increase your tolerance for discomfort.
When we give too much priority to our comfort, we limit our tolerance of discomfort. But we actually need discomfort and positive stress if we want to grow and live meaningful lives.
To increase your tolerance of discomfort, you need to take small steps to push yourself outside your comfort zone. When you do this, you’ll find the anticipation of events you perceive as uncomfortable worse than the events themselves, and you’ll increase your tolerance level of discomfort. You’ll be able to experience more things that light up your brain with joy.
10. Celebrate and be grateful.
Fear and anxiety has you focus on the future. It steals you from the present moment and tells you there is danger up ahead that requires your attention.
But if you spend your entire life preparing for what’s ahead, you’ll miss what’s in front of you. You need to be aware of the present moment if you want to experience joy.
How do you do this? You stop and celebrate.
When I was an entrepreneur, I never stopped to celebrate my goal achievement. I kept charging forward because I believed if I stopped, something bad would happen. But this just crushed my joy and gave power to my fear.
When you stop and celebrate the present moment, you’ll be grateful for what you have now. You’ll restore your attention to the present instead of the future.
Awareness is the best medicine
Being aware of the 10 mindsets and the 10 actions to combat them can help you summon joy on demand.
When you notice the urge to numb out, you can stop yourself, and engage painful feelings.
When you notice blame rising in you, you can stop yourself, and take ownership for the things that are yours.
When you creep into comparison, you can stop yourself, and connect with those people instead.
Awareness can help us experience joy more often. But if these actions are not repeated, they fail to become a habit.
To make joy your default state, repeat these actions often. Let them serve as guideposts on your way to joy. With joy as a natural habit, you’ll be surprised by how well equipped you are to handle life’s sudden twists and turns. All it takes are a few repeated actions and a hope to get you through.