By Kaia Roman of The Joy Plan
In 2014, I experienced a major letdown in my professional life when an online health business I started failed to thrive, and ultimately I had to let it go. Although there are far worse fates than the failure of an Internet 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. My self-esteem hit an all-time low.
As I sunk into depression, my friend Niko inspired me to try an experiment. She 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. And 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 continue my Joy Plan, and to write a book about the extraordinary events that took place in the six months that followed (The Joy Plan, Sourcebooks, available for pre-order here).
Joy as a Way of Life
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.
Today, I teach a research-based Mindfulness curriculum to elementary school children. Because I’m a total science geek, to me, mindfulness is all about physiology. It’s about doing whatever it takes to bring your attention to the present moment, into your body, and out of your chattering mind. And it’s been shown to have multiple health and brain benefits.
I start each day with 10-15 minutes of gratitude, either by writing in my gratitude notebook or simply reciting in my mind what I’m grateful for. This helps me get into the right headspace for whatever the day will bring. It is impossible for our brains to be in a state of appreciation and fear simultaneously, so I do my best to appreciate like crazy as often as possible.
Acts of Kindness
Being kind to others feels good. In fact, it releases dopamine in the brain. It helps take our attention off of our own troubles, and also creates a feeling of interconnectedness. I try to do something kind every day, whether that’s as small as smiling to everyone I see or a big as making a donation to my favorite charity.
It took me some time to break the ingrained habit I had of frequently complaining, but making this shift has had a huge effect on my mental state. Instead of complaining now, whenever there’s something I’m unhappy about, I use my urge to complain as a springboard to create something new—to focus on a solution rather than a problem.
Laughter really is the best medicine, but the truth is, I’m a pretty serious person. I like scientific research, philosophical discussions, and big ideas. So I have to make an effort to create more laughter in my life. I make it a goal to laugh (by myself or with others) at least a few times a day, and I use whatever means necessary!
I have learned from a lot of trial and error that whatever actions I take will be more effective when I’m feeling positive and optimistic. So on days when I’m feeling low, I’m less inclined to just “push through” and get things done anyway—I take a break and tend to my own well-being first.
Happiness Comes and Goes
Mostly, the takeaway that will stay with me forever is this: I know I will not be happy all of the time. I may not even be happy most of the time. Life is full of ups and downs for most people and I am no exception. However, I now have the tools to recognize the blessing in the low times, and to get back to my joy more quickly and with more grace.
I am poised to handle whatever life brings me because I’ve found an inner light that propels me forward which can never be extinguished. It was really there all along, I just didn’t know how to access it until now.
Annmarie Gianni #JoyChallenge
During the week of June 19-23, I’ll be offering a special five-day Joy Challenge to AnneMarie Gianni readers. Each day, we’ll focus on a different aspect the Joy Plan, with a daylong practice to help us shift our mental habits, and bring more joy into our experience of life.
Monday, June 19: Mindfulness—bring your awareness to the present moment, and away from your stressful thoughts.
Tuesday, June 20: Gratitude—find appreciation for as much as you can, as often as you can, and watch how negativity melts away.
Wednesday, June 21: Kindness—acts of kindness increase motivating dopamine in the brain, for both the giver and receiver.
Thursday, June 22: No Complaining—focus on solutions instead of problems and notice what a difference this subtle shift makes in your life.
Friday, June 23: Laughter—they say laughter is the best medicine, and for good reason—it floods your brain and body with mood-boosting serotonin.
Joy is a habit that can be cultivated with practice and repetition. And it’s more fun to do it with friends!
Kaia Roman is the author of the new book, The Joy Plan (Sourcebooks, July 2017). She teaches Mindfulness to elementary school students in Santa Cruz, California and is a blogger for minbodygreen 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.