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Do You Want More Joy? Practice These Two Things

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein

Six months ago, a man came to me looking for help. While his life looked blessed and rich from the outside, inside his soul had grown hollow and numb. He had no joy. Nothing moved him. Though he knew many things were still important to him, like his work and his family, it had all become abstract and academic. Nothing he did seemed to mean anything, or make any difference in his soul.

I know his story is not uncommon among men, and women too. We think we want a life that looks a certain way: to have a certain level of income, to live in a certain kind of home, to have this many kids or that many toys.

But what we really want is a life that feels a certain way: to feel our souls alive and truly free, to feel connected in deeply meaningful ways to others in love, to feel our lives matter and that what we do makes a difference for good in the world.

But after spending years trying to accomplish “A” (a life that looks a certain way), we’re devastated to discover it fails to produce “B” (a life that feels as we desire). Our joy is sucked away like oxygen from the air, and we find ourselves gasping for relief, wondering where we went wrong, and desperate to fix it.

Thankfully, the beginning of recovery doesn’t require a massive overhaul of the life you’ve built. It doesn’t mean quitting your job, or going back to school for a different degree, or moving to some exotic location where you’ve always wanted to live. Some of these changes may (or may not) come in the course of time, but at the beginning such drastic moves are generally not necessary or wise. (The best thing is to get your joy back first, then decide where you want to go from there.)

The Recovery of Joy requires only two things, and both of them are daily practices you can start doing today. They are:

GRATITUDE: The practice of gratitude produces joy. How? It shifts your focus from what’s missing to what’s already here and activates your capacity to enjoy it (“en-joy” … get it?). The practice is simple. Before you go to bed each night, write down three things you are grateful for that day, and spend a minute thanking God for them. That’s it. Do this every day for six months, and your joy will multiply a thousand fold.

WONDER: Remember what it was like to be a kid watching fireworks on the Fourth of July? That’s what wonder is like, and despite what you may think, you haven’t lost the capacity to do it. You’re just out of practice. So practice! All it takes is a spare moment a few times each day, and something beautiful or mysterious on which to focus your attention. For example, the clouds, the wind, the warmth of the sun, the beauty of trees, the wonder of breath, the love of God, the stars, the magic of fire, a beautiful song, your children’s laughter, the beauty of mountains and oceans and meadows and deserts, and … you get the idea. The opportunities for wonder are all around you every day. So practice wonder a few times each day. Marvel at life. Marvel at your life, and before long you’ll find joy has moved back into your house like a long lost best friend who’s returned home for good.

How else do you like to cultivate gratitude and wonder in your daily life? Share your ideas in the comments below.