Joy is our true nature. We need only watch children playing in the park to see our joyful essence expressed. We all have the capacity to experience peace and joy.

But joy is not something to be pursued, for if we attempt to pursue joy, it will evade us. Like happiness, joy is something to be accessed, not pursued.

How do we access the joy of life? How do we realize joy in the midst of what often seems mundane or difficult? The answer is that we realize joy through intentional practices, starting with the intentional practice of humble, grateful reverence for this precious moment of existence. Reverence requires intention because our default way of being is to take this miraculous gift of life for granted. Through realizing the preciousness of our life, many positive emotions arise in our hearts, including joy.

It is also our default nature to reach for what we do not have. Conversely, we also instinctively push away, resist, and complain. We have a built-in negativity bias. Even in paradise, we would eventually find something lacking; something to complain about. We mistakenly see happiness as dependent upon our conditions. We are driven to seek out pleasure, and to avoid the unpleasant. Yet all pleasures are fleeting, and life entails constant distress. In our compulsive need for reality to be other than what it is, we lose our sense of the essential joy for this gift of existence.

We can counter our unskillful traits of habituation, grasping and aversion through the practice of reverence and respect for the now. Paradoxically, reverent acceptance of this eternal moment enables us to act positively to diminish distress and enhance life.

We cultivate joy through intentional practices. Effort — gentle, persistent effort — is required. Joy is everywhere if we set our intention to look for it. As we attend to joy, so we enhance our experience of joy.

The following are a set of 20 joy practices that will help you to savor the gift of existence now.

1. Stop hurting yourself. If you have a vulnerability to addiction, renounce it. Protect yourself as you go about your day. Be careful so as to minimize harm to yourself and others. Remember that life feeds on life, and that evil exists. Just as life sustains you, so too can it consume you. Take care and do nothing to bring harm upon yourself. Renounce destructive habits. Instead, commit your life to the practice of love — for yourself, for others and for all of life — in every word and action.

2. Let go and forgive. Stop resenting reality for not conforming to your ideas of how things should be. Be humble. See that life is about extensive life, and not just about you. Release old hurts, resentments and judgments. Replace negative judgments with discernment. Seek to understand, as understanding breeds compassion.

3. Get still. Engage in a spiritual practice of silence, solitude and stillness. Your practice could be contemplation, meditation or prayer. Mind-body practices, such as yoga, are also an option. Through your stillness practice, you will cultivate your reverence and respect for reality. In stillness, you can calm the mind. Your stillness then becomes a refuge from the mind-made pains of life.

4. Practice presence. As you go through your day, practice being presence. Make a gentle effort to be still while still moving. Cultivate the outlook of a beginner, savoring each moment as if it were both your first and last moment. Look and listen inquisitively so you can see deeply and hear deeply. Keep it fresh. Be open. Recognize the grace and abundance that are all around you. Let stillness be your anchor and refuge. You will cultivate inner peace through your practice of stillness. The practice of presence will cultivate loving-kindness and joy.

5. Savor existence. Start each day with an intention to savor all the simple joys of life. Savor the ability to see, to hear, to feel, to taste, and to touch. Savor the beauty that is all around you. Savor the miracle of your existence.

6. Practice self-love. As you practice reverence for the now, take particular care to practice self-reverence. This may be difficult if you were neglected, unloved, or harmed growing up. If this is the case, you will need to engage in a daily intentional practice of self-love. Accept your fears, your faults, your misdeeds, your mistakes and your negativity bias. See that your brain is merely generating a stream of thoughts, feelings and perceptions based upon previous and present conditions. Paradoxically, change begins with reverent self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-forgiveness. Be kind to yourself while holding yourself accountable for your actions.

7. Heal. Get treatment for medical and psychiatric conditions. If you have been broken by neglect or trauma, get help to heal and discover your wholeness. Practice all of these joy practices daily, as they too will help you to heal.

8. Take care. Take good care of yourself. Live skillfully and intelligently. Eat well, sleep, rest, exercise, and engage in a daily spiritual practice. Your joy will flower from your vitality.

9. Manage pain with love. Manage your pain with love rather than with attempting to numb yourself. Soothe yourself with breath work and other calming mind-body practices. Comfort yourself with positive affirmations and reassurances. If you suffer from addiction, replace it with connection. Ask for help and support. Get connected, and avoid isolation.

10. Practice respectful authenticity. Be who you are. Have the courage to be yourself. Experience the vulnerability of authenticity. Practice unconditional self-love even in the face of others’ criticisms or condemnations. Remember that unconditional love goes both ways. Remind yourself that if you act with love and integrity, you have done your part, and that others’ reactions are not about you — they are about them. When you make mistakes, forgive yourself. Show yourself the love and compassion you deserve, even when others do not.

11. Have fun. Play. Make time for simple pleasures. Savor the small things that can bring joy. Watch the sunrise or sunset. Be in nature. Enjoy music and the arts. Sing. Be creative. Hang out. Balance doing and being. Read a good book. Dance. Relax. Take a nap. Watch a movie. Slow down.

12. Be with joyful others. Be with positive, joyful people doing positive, joyful things. Be with those you love. Maintain connection rituals and routines, such as family dinners and social events with friends.

13. Be grateful. Practice gratitude — for life, for love, for abundance. Notice what is good in your life. Focus on the many good things, not the few distressing things. Give thanks.

14. Practice loving. Start each day with an intention to love. As you go through your day, practice compassion — especially self-compassion — empathy, generosity, contentedness, hopefulness, appreciation, humility, patience, forgiveness and kindness. Be helpful. Yield to others’ needs out of a sense of mutuality. Cultivate an unconditional friendliness towards yourself and others. Wish yourself and others well. Love life. As you love, so life will resonate with your loving. You will realize the joy of making a difference to others and will experience love coming back to you many times over.

15. Practice positivity. See the opportunities in difficult situations. Your reverence for this moment will lead to a positive attitude, which will lead to positive thoughts, which will result in positive actions, which will lead to positive outcomes.

16. Seek out humor. Enjoy comedy. Laugh often. Practice smiling on purpose — it will make you feel better.

17. Live with balance. We live in an imbalanced culture that prizes doing and achievement above all. In our rush to do, do, do, we lose our opportunity to savor life. Simply being is greatly underrated. Balance doing and being. Remember that love and play are more important than work.

18. Visualize joy. Recall past moments of joy. Remember yourself as a child having fun. Bring the feeling of past experiences of joy into this present moment.

19. Discover. Cultivate the joy of discovery. Make learning and growth a life habit. Practice an art, such as playing an instrument, sculpting or drawing. Take classes. Read books. Listen closely to others and ask questions. Strive to understand.

20. Live a meaningful life. Take at least one action a day towards your higher goals and dreams. When you live for your higher purpose, you cultivate the joy of meaning.

We should make these 20 joy practices part of our daily routine. The time to experience joy is now. There is no need to wait for a certain set of circumstances.

Joy will protect us, for when we are full of joy, we will have no need to be addicted or engage in other negative behaviors in an attempt to bring temporary relief. These joy practices are really the practice of love; we live love and love life.

We have a choice. We need to choose joy.

Can't wait to release the suffering and start creating more joy in your life? Go to drmichaelmcgee.com and download your free copy of 20 Ways to Realize Joy in Your Life now!

Michael McGee

Author's Bio: 

Michael D. McGee, M.D.
978-360-6071
mdm@wellmind.com

Michael McGee is currently the Chief Medical Officer of The Haven, a psychiatric treatment facility specializing in the treatment of addictions, located on California’s Central Coast. He also has a private practice in San Luis Obispo, where his approach combines psychotherapy and psychopharmacology. He includes psychospiritual interventions to compliment biological, psychodynamic, interpersonal and cognitive-behavioral interventions.

Graduating with distinction from Stanford University with a degree in biology, he received his M.D. from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed his residency in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is board certified in general psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine. He has extensive experience in general adult psychiatry and addiction treatment, and is the author of The Joy of Recovery: a comprehensive guide to healing from addiction (2018).

Can't wait to release the suffering and start creating more joy in your life? Go to drmichaelmcgee.com and download your free copy of 20 Ways to Realize Joy in Your Life now!