Mental Health

Listless and Longing for Joy? Here’s What Can Help

The mind has an amazing ability to see problems and to analyze and solve them. This ability gave humans an edge for survival, but the mind’s automatic tendency to focus on what seems to be missing or wrong in this life can be a major block to joy. With mindfulness, it is possible to see these automatic negative tendencies and intentionally shift your attention in ways that gladden and brighten the mind and heart.

In fact, where your attention goes is critically important to your wellbeing. If you focus on what seems to be missing or wrong, you will have more listless thoughts. If you turn your attention to what brings you joy, then joy becomes your habit. The shift in attention takes intention. You can incline your body, heart, and mind toward more joy on purpose by directing your attention that way. This is a way of rebalancing the survival-oriented automatic tendencies of the mind. In the words of Henri Nouwen, Catholic mystic and writer, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

By taking time for yourself, becoming quiet, turning inward with a quality of kindness and a curiosity about what is happening inside, you can shift your attention. With repetition, you will get better at it. The truth is that there is nothing missing in you. Within you is the powerful capacity to access true joy.

Simple Ways to Refocus the Mind and Heart

In the morning, before beginning your day, sit quietly and reflect on this phrase: Maybe something good is going to happen today. Then inquire, What does it feel like for me to think that something good is going to happen, rather than there being something bad around the corner? Let yourself sit in reflection under this question. In your body, notice whether there is a feeling of contraction or expansion. Rest in this.

During your day, pause to connect with your intention. Close your eyes and offer a phrase such as, Let me open to happiness, or Let me allow joy to come. Notice what it feels like in your body when you hold this intention. Repeat this process throughout your day.

Be on the lookout for moments of wellbeing in your day, moments of happiness or contentment, of ease or joy. It may occur as a fleeting moment in which you catch sight of something lovely, like a bird settling itself nearby, a patch of wildflowers along the road, a dog relishing a walk. Or a sense of wellbeing may bubble up from within you. Let yourself stay with the positive feeling. Let your body be filled with it. Let it touch you deep within your cells. Take the time to savor the moment on a bodily level, inhabiting it fully.

As experiencing joy becomes easier, you can begin to investigate the many flavors that joy comes in. It may feel like a deep peace. Or a kind of cheer. It may arrive as an expansive bliss. Or as contentment, a sense of well-being or a rush of strong feeling. Or a quiet steady glow. Joy has qualities of light and space that can be known.

Choose a practice that speaks to you and keep coming back to it every day. Positive feeling states, that initially feel very fleeting, will become more and more accessible, more and more stable. Trust in your capacity to return to them, to make a home in them.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Kindfulness (Buy on Amazon, $20.99).

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