Happiness is already here in this moment, just waiting to be discovered! Mindfulness expert Tzivia Gover offers an inspiring treasury of small, creative ways to shift your perspective and uncover surprising bits of joy over the course of your day. Whether you’re making dinner, commuting, exercising, working at the computer, or brushing your teeth, every moment of your life offers an opportunity to uncover happiness. Short essays are accompanied by practical exercises to try and exquisite illustrations by artist Olaf Hajek. This is the perfect gift for anyone who wants to increase their daily experience of joy.
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About the Author
Tzivia Gover specializes in facilitating self-growth and awareness through her workshops on writing, dream work, and mindfulness. A professional educator since 1996, she leads workshops and retreats around the United States. Her articles and essays have been published in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and numerous anthologies and journals. In addition to holding an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, Gover is a certified dream therapist, certified proprioceptive writing instructor, and Reiki master.
Read an Excerpt
You Are Joy
I can't remember what prompted me to ask the question, but I'll never forget the answer. Several years back, I asked my mother, "What was I like as a small child?"
She could have answered in any number of ways. For example, I remember my siblings called me a crybaby. My father, with a mix of love and impatience in his voice, used to call me a pest. I once overheard a family friend describe me as a nervous kid. I remember being bossy, moody, friendly, and studious.
So my mother's answer took me by surprise. Without hesitation she replied, "You were a joy."
A joy? This was not even in the ballpark of what I'd been anticipating. I'd done years of therapy, read dozens of self-help books, and participated in numerous self-growth classes, all of which I believed had made me into a happier person, the underlying assumption being I'd been a bit gloomy before.
But after my mother's pronouncement, that at age 4, or 5, or 6, I was already "a joy," I had an epiphany. Despite all my earnest striving toward becoming a better person, I now realized that I didn't need to work so hard. What I really had to do instead was, well, be myself; be my true self, that is. Underneath all of my labels, stories, selective memories, and assumptions about how others saw me, I already was the person I'd been trying so diligently to become. I was joy.
This is an example of waking up to truth. Instead of signing up for one more workshop, buying one more transformational CD or how-to book, I simply had to embrace my joyful nature.
It is easy to imagine my own daughter, grown now, asking me the same question someday. And if she does, I won't hesitate. I remember the first moment I laid eyes on her. I saw in her newborn self a light glowing as if from within. I saw her radiant joy as plainly as I saw her little potato-shaped nose and pink newborn body.
But with all she has gone through in the intervening years — the struggles, disappointments, and challenges, along with the triumphs and shining moments — I imagine she'd be as surprised by my answer as I was by my mother's.
So many of us believe that to be joyous we need to do a lot of work. But the truth is, our essence is already sparkling with happiness and bliss. All we really need to do is cultivate good internal habits to allow our divine spark to be revealed.
My mother knew this about me all along, and I know it about my daughter.
It is true of you, too.
EXERCISES for the Joy of It
Wake to the idea that you are joy. Use this phrase today as an affirmation: "I am joy." Each time you repeat the words inwardly to yourself, feel a spark deep inside you growing into a bright star, then a bold sun.
Up in the Sky
Step outside or look out the window. No matter what the weather — clouds, snow, rain, storm, fog, or clear — remind yourself that the sun and stars are always shining, whether you can see them in that moment or not.
Watch children playing, and notice how quickly they find a reason to dance, wonder, or laugh. Tear storms come and go; smiles are never far behind. Now it's your turn. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings without judging them or assigning too much weight to them. Can you have a good cry, then turn up the music and dance in the living room?
How Do You Spell Joy?
Joy. It's a small, simple word composed of three letters: a curvy J, a perfect O, and an exuberant, sky-hugging Y. It's a word that might wear pink or purple and possess a fondness for exclamation points. Peppy and compact, it is often misunderstood. It's a word that's been worn down from overuse, appropriated by advertising campaigns, and relegated to coy catch phrases splashed across greeting cards and souvenir T-shirts.
Poor, misunderstood Joy; it can seem as though its very popularity and desirability have conspired to make some suspicious of its true meaning. Joy is like a girl who just happens to be good at cheerleading, who can jump up and effortlessly make her spine into an elastic arc — who really does wake up happy in the morning — but who is mistaken for trite, clichéd, or shallow.
Joy, however, is anything but saccharine or false. It is delight; a fully embodied form of contentment. It's the smile that finds its own stretch and doesn't need to be tugged into place. It's what the morning glory does when it feels the first rays of sunlight on its petals. It's the splash that sends a feeding fish slaphappy out of the water, and it's the flick of its tail on its return. Joy is the impulse in the morning that sends you into the kitchen for tea and toast before the alarm has had a chance to ring. It's the feeling palm leaves must have when they riffle the air in the Caribbean breeze. And it might just make you feel like you want to give a little jump for ... well, yes ... joy!
EXERCISES for the Joy of It
The dictionary describes joy as a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. But the best definition for joy comes from within you. Take 5 to 10 minutes and write your own definition. What does joy mean to you?
Shades of Joy
Good feelings come in all varieties. Make a list of all the different gradations of happiness you experience, from glad to giddy, easygoing to ecstatic. See how your mood is elevated simply by thinking about positive emotions.
Mine the Moments
Make a list of moments when you've felt joy. Choose one or two instances and describe them in detail. What were you doing? Who were you with? Where were you? Did joy take you by surprise? What were the events that led up to the feeling?
5 Rules on the Road to Happiness
Sometimes joy seems mysterious. We meet someone who has suffered great losses, yet she seems to glow with gratitude and ease. And then we spend time with an uncle who is blessed with wealth and health but who can do nothing but scowl, growl, and complain. Science tells us that to some extent, our level of happiness is set by our genetic makeup and our life circumstances. But research shows, and evidence abounds, that we each have the capacity to increase our level of happiness. Sure, having some money in the bank helps, but being happy has more to do with the cultivation of habits of attitude and building the muscles of resiliency, rather than with our outer circumstances. It's the practice of such intangible traits as generosity, optimism, and compassion that puts a spring in the step of those who seem to be having a slightly better time at the party — even when there isn't one.
There are no rules for how to be happy. But there are some basic principles that faith traditions from across cultures and through the ages agree on, and that science supports. Here are some guidelines to help you shift into a brighter mood.
1. It's your mood. We may feel that we are at the whim of our moods and emotions, but we have a lot more control over how we feel than we think. Anyone can increase his level of joy and happiness by choosing where to put his attention (on negative or positive thoughts, on people who uplift him or those who drain energy from him) and creating and maintaining positive intentions.
2. It's an inside job. No one else can make you happy. That's the good news — and the not-so-good news. It's good news because others don't have control of how you experience your life. The not-so-good news, perhaps, is that you need to take the initiative to consciously choose which thoughts and attitudes to focus on, and to choose healthy reactions to the people and events in your life.
3. You can have it now. You don't have to wait to get a new job, the perfect partner, or your dream house to feel good. External events, possessions, or situations don't guarantee deep or long-term happiness. But a daily commitment to feeling better can.
4. The pursuit is what we're promised. Our founding fathers were wise in promising us the pursuit of happiness. No one can guarantee your good spirits because finding true contentment is an active and ongoing process. Living a full and meaningful life requires a commitment to healthy ways of being.
5. There is a fast track to feeling good. Yes, living a joyful life takes some initiative and effort, but it's by no means dreary hard work. In fact, there are shortcuts to feeling better. Shifting your thoughts and feelings to gratitude and loving-kindness are quick ways to connect with your joyous heart.
The Oy of Joy
Some days it seems joy is everywhere: It's in the sun hitting the terra-cotta tiles on the side of a building, or in the rush of delight at seeing a rainbow after a storm. You notice that people are smiling at you as you walk down the street between the bank and your car, and you wonder why. Then you notice that you've been smiling at them. Some days it's that easy.
Other days you're caring for a parent who is recovering in the ICU, you're trying to comfort your spouse who is afraid of being the next one to be laid off, or your daughter calls to tell you her marriage is in trouble. On these days, joy seems like a word from a foreign language that you can't translate.
We know about joy because we know sadness. We know the joy of letting go because we know the desperate sorrow of being ripped off, or of being denied the love of someone we yearn for. We find joy in the middle of the night just after crying our last tear, and the tear after that.
This knowledge of the connection between separation and wholeness, heartbreak and healing, is reflected in the creation story from the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, in which the world, once whole and perfect, is broken like a crystal bowl that drops and shatters. The shards, scattered throughout the world, must be put back together. This story hints at the beauty of the brokenness we encounter in our lives. It also hints at the splendor of what is possible when we accept the pain of being in pieces, and the power in putting things back together — one tiny piece at a time. While the process might feel lonely at times, the story reminds us that we are neither alone nor powerless as we engage in this effort both individually and with others on our quests for healing.
EXERCISES for the Joy of It
Be the Honey
Some days we feel we need to court joy. But sometimes it's better to be the honey, find and flaunt your own sweetness (honesty, clarity, authenticity), and let joy come to you.
Broken Bits of Joy
Mosaics are beautiful pieces of artwork made from shattered bits of glass and broken tile. Today, seek out the beauty in what's broken or abandoned: a dried brown leaf drifting in the wind, bits of shattered green glass along the highway, an abandoned car on a country road with yellow wildflowers pushing up through the hanging fender ...
Who are the people you talk to when things are difficult? The ones with whom you can share your secrets and fears? If you don't have relationships that support this type of sharing right now, what steps can you take to deepen an existing friendship to include this type of connection? Individual therapy or support groups can also offer the help that's needed.
Sigh into Sadness
Trying to avoid negative feelings only makes them more powerful. Set a timer for 20 minutes. In that time, allow yourself to feel the contents of your heavy heart. Sigh into the weight of all your sadness, and let go of trying to make it better. Feel the burdens settle down, as if into a hammock that is firmly anchored to two steady trees. Each time you exhale allow yourself to surrender to what is, without attaching judgment or stories to the feelings. Allow the sadness to soften and dissolve. When the timer sounds, exhale with an audible sigh. Get up, and shake out your hands and legs, releasing any stale, stuck energy. Move into your day feeling lighter and brighter.
Let Yourself Cry
When you let the tears flow and quiet the impulse toward blame or regret; when you stay present with your broken heart — it's as if the tears turn to glistening crystals. They may even become surprisingly beautiful drops of joy.
Rock What You've Got
Granted, some people seem to do better in the happiness lottery than others. Genetic factors, economic circumstances, and early childhood experiences are among the factors that account for what some researchers call the happiness set point for each individual. But people can do a lot to increase their levels of happiness regardless of their set point. Accept your current life situation, and commit to taking responsibility for creating more joy in your life from today forward.
Joy All Day Long
A Day in the Life
What could be more prosaic than an ordinary day? There are 7 in every week, 365 in a year, and the average American will experience nearly 30,000 of them in a lifetime. If familiarity breeds contempt, we live in danger of devaluing the very currency of our lives.
For a mayfly, a day is all there is. Intricately outfitted with seven pairs of gills, two to three long tails, and wings, this tiny creature gets only one day to feed, mate, and experience the lakes and streams where it lives. Some species of moths live for mere minutes. The male ant has a comparatively luxurious several-day life span. From this perspective a day is nothing to squander.
Interestingly, the word day, from the Old English daeg, shares its etymological roots with the word lifetime.
Each day we live a microcosm of our life. Each morning we are born anew, and each night we have the chance to make a full accounting of how we spent our precious hours just before we slip into the mysterious darkness of sleep. We are gifted with tens of thousands of opportunities to master the art of living life fully awake to the wonders of ordinary moments.
EXERCISES for Joy All Day
Starting with brushing your teeth, each time you turn on a faucet and see water flushing into the sink, consciously exhale all of your tension with a whooshing breath and let your worries cascade down the drain with the water.
When you hear a phone chirp, vibrate, or ring, heed the call by checking in with your internal chatter. Still your inner monologue and listen inside for silence.
One, Two, Three
When you notice your mind wandering to negative or stressful thoughts, close your eyes and take three breaths. With the first breath feel stillness in the center of your body. With the second breath listen to the silence in your mouth and tongue. With the third breath feel within your mind a sense of expansiveness as limitless as a clear blue sky. Smile, open your eyes, and see the world anew.
When you hear yourself complaining about a person or event in your life, stop and consider three things about that person or situation that you are genuinely grateful for.
Twice a day the readout on your digital clock flashes 11:11. It's just the time of day, but a lot has been made of the 11:11 phenomenon. Some say significant events tend to occur at 11:11, or that it's the perfect time to make a wish. Why not simply use 11:11 as an invitation to wake into the present moment? Each time you notice that it's 11:11, stop and breathe into your heart. Give thanks for all the good things in your day. Keep this mini meditation going — until 11:12, when you resume your activities refreshed and awakened to the day's ordinary wonder.
The five senses are like five gateways that help you wake up to the present moment. Notice the colors that surround you; tune in to the sounds; touch something and give it your entire attention for even a moment. Notice the tastes on your tongue. Stop and smell the roses — or any other fragrant flower in your environment.
With Eyes Wide Open
Some days you wake happy. On others you wake on the wrong side of the bed, unable all day, it feels like, to see anything positive about your experience. Sometimes it seems you didn't really wake up at all, having run on autopilot from when you brushed your teeth in the morning to when you turned down the bedcovers at night.
Whether you rise to the sounds of trilling birds, or to a beeping, buzzing, or ringing alarm clock, waking up is more than merely getting up and out of bed. From a practical point of view, waking up may be the simple act of opening your eyes in the morning, but from a scientific perspective, waking up is a physiological shift in consciousness, from the brain chemistry of sleep and dreaming to that of wakeful attention.
Mystics and philosophers have long posited that life is a dream and that our job is to wake within it to discover meaning, purpose, beauty, and joy. But too many of us doze through our lives, not fully accessing our potential. We may even unconsciously create conflict and negativity.
Waking up to the present moment inspires and energizes us. Waking up in this way ensures that we won't sleepwalk through life or fall into habitual ways of seeing the world around us.
Excerpted from "Joy in Every Moment"
Copyright © 2015 Tzivia Gover.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Hunting Down Happy Memories Joy: The User's Manual 1: Introducing Joy 2: Joy All Day Long 3: Joy at Home 4: Joy at Work 5: Joy on the Go 6: Joy in Solitude 7: Joy with Others 8: Joyful Celebration Epilogue: The Cycle of Joy