Being in a state of joy isn’t something you’re born with. It’s a learned skill, according to psychotherapist Donald Altman, MA, LPC, in his new book The Joy Compass: 8 Ways to Find Lasting Happiness, Gratitude & Optimism in the Present Moment.
We don’t access joy by focusing on external factors. We access real, genuine joy from the inside by using what Altman calls our “personal joy compass.” Altman describes a joy compass as “an internal, portable navigational guide activated through moment-to-moment awareness.”
Here are three wonderful ways from Altman’s uplifting book to steer your joy compass in the right direction.
1. Revise your inner language.
How we talk to ourselves can influence our mood and outlook on life. For instance, “shoulds” can easily sap our joy. If you’re constantly telling yourself all the different things you should be doing, you’re likely residing in a negative or unsatisfied space.
As Altman notes in the book, “Often, ‘should’ carries with it feelings of guilt, shame and self-blame.” The underlying implication is that “I’m not really measuring up” or “I can’t accept myself as is,” he writes.
To stop “shoulding” all over yourself, first assess the situation. Altman suggests paying attention to how often you use the word “should” every day and in what context (e.g., work, beliefs about yourself, relationships).
He then suggests replacing “should” with “could.” This seemingly small change is actually very powerful because “it’s all about choice.” It promotes self-kindness, flexibility and forgiveness. It promotes exploration rather than rigidity.
“It can lead you to explore your feelings about a particular situation, rather than leave you stuck in a negative and harsh point of view that doesn’t accomplish much other than to deflate you or others,” Altman writes.
2. Seek out laughter.
Research has shown that laughter can bolster physical health and reduce stress. Altman cites this study, which found that cancer patients who watched a humorous video had increased immune function. He also cites a study which found that laughter can produce human growth hormone to boost immunity and beta-endorphins to stave off depression.
To make laughter part of your day, Altman suggests the following:
- Set an intention to have at least one laughter memory a day. He defines this as “any humorous event, thought or observation that stimulates positive mood states that are joyful, uplifting, heartwarming, energizing or euphoric.”
- Use a journal to jot down your laughter memories. Read it at the end of every week.
- Locate laughter by sharing funny articles or comic strips.
- Make a list of your favorite funny films, and watch them.
3. Marvel at nature.
Focusing your attention on your natural surroundings can instantly help you access joy. And, according to research, it can even improve your attention. (Here’s a thorough explanation of the nature and attention study.)
Altman includes a simple but powerful exercise in the book. He suggests readers choose a big tree to stand next to. Place your hand on the tree, and feel its stability. Then step back so you can see the entire tree. Look at the tree from top to bottom, bottom to top, noticing the smallest details, such as colors of the leaves and the texture of the trunk. When you’re done, shift your focus to another tree or flower or the sky.
Using the joy compass doesn’t mean glossing over the negative, ignoring painful emotions or pretending that everything is OK. It means moving forward, being flexible, paying attention, practicing gratitude and finding greater peace.
Learn more about Donald Altman at his website.
What helps you access joy?