Kaia Roman’s new book, The Joy Plan, has been described as “Life Changing” and “An energized and informative plan for transforming your life.” Now you can win a copy by entering our free competition. See below for entry details. Here’s a sneak preview…
Where is your joy located? It’s an odd question, right? Perhaps you think joy is in your heart, or maybe you experience joy as a state of mind.
It turns out, according to scientists, that joy originates in the limbic system of the brain—the part of the brain that controls emotion, behavior, and long-term memory. Unlike happiness, which is a cognitive experience based in the brain’s neocortex, joy is an emotion we can feel without conscious thought. We feel joy without thinking about it, and we can train our brains to feel it often.
Here are four practices you can do every day to rewire your brain for joy.
1. Focus on Gratitude
Love the life you have, and it will get even better. Every time you have thoughts or express words of gratitude, you’re predisposing your brain to choose optimistic thoughts more frequently. You’re also lowering cortisol, the stress hormone you don’t want to have too much of. To help create an attitude of gratitude, keep a “gratitude journal”—a special notebook where you spend several minutes every day writing down things you’re grateful for. You’ll probably find that this practice trains you to be on the lookout for things to write down, and you may surprise yourself by discovering just how much you have to be thankful for.
2. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is simply the act of bringing your awareness to the present moment. Deep breaths flood your brain with oxygen and calm the amygdala, which is like the brain’s alarm clock—it senses danger and triggers your stress response. Practicing mindfulness can train your brain and body to remain calm in the midst of swirling thoughts and emotions. With even a short daily practice, mindfulness can alter your brain in profound ways.
3. Shift Your Attention from Problems to Solutions
Thanks to the process of neuroplasticity, our brains develop neural pathways—like well-worn highways, they travel on regularly because they’re familiar. By choosing positive thoughts, words, and actions at every opportunity (focusing on solutions rather than problems), you’re training your brain to form the neural pathways for optimism, which is associated with greater joy.
4. Give to Others
Altruism not only takes your mind off your own troubles, it feels good to give. Acts of kindness release a gratifying flood of dopamine into your brain—giving you an instant sense of reward. Look for opportunities to volunteer in your local community, or simply help out folks in need when the opportunity arises. Even when you’re busy, kind gestures like sending a thank you card, paying a stranger’s parking meter, or donating to your favorite charity don’t take much time. Kindness can even be as simple as a smile.
Unfortunately, joy doesn’t come easily for everyone. But with practice and repetition, joy is a habit that anyone can cultivate. As we shift our mental habits, we change our experience of life.
A few years ago, my business crashed and my self-esteem hit an all-time low. Although there are far worse fates than the failure of a business, it felt like the last straw in a long string of failures in my life that all pointed to my inability to do anything right.
As I sunk into depression, my friend Niko suggested that if I focused on making joy my top priority for one month, my entire life would turn around. With no job, no plan, and no other ideas,
I decided to give it a try.
For 30 days, I went after joy from all angles—from the scientific to the spiritual, and everything in between. I tried every tool and trick that was recommended in every self-help book I could get my hands on. It was remarkable to see what worked and what didn’t.
And yes, Niko was right. After 30 days, I had experienced enough changes in my life that I was able to not only continue my Joy Plan, but to write a book about the extraordinary events that took place in the six months that followed.
The Joy Plan has become a way of life for me now, and the discoveries I made during my experiment are now my everyday practices. The good news is, you don’t need to take 30 days or make major changes in your life to do these things—they are simple enough that you can start today!
About the Author
Kaia is the author of the new book, The Joy Plan (Source books, July 2017). She teaches Mindfulness to elementary school students in Santa Cruz, California and is a blogger for mindbodygreen.com and other sites. She writes about how she went from joyless and anxious to grateful and optimistic so she can remember how she did it if she forgets. For everyday joy and mindfulness tips, sign up for Kaia’s newsletter at TheJoyPlan.com. You’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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Joy Plan Book Competition
We’ll select 10 lucky winners from all the entries to receive a free, signed by the Author, copy of The Joy Plan