| Creating a Life of Joy |
By Salle Merrill Redfield
Genre: Inspirational & Self-Help
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Preparing for Joy
We are all capable of living lives characterized by great joy. Within each of us is an amazing human spirit that is strong enough to overcome pain and disappointment. And no matter what our current situation happens to be, or what beliefs we may currently harbor about ourselves, we can tap into that inner strength and wisdom and move forward to create more joy.
At times we diminish our ability to experience joy by being preoccupied with the past. When we do this, we allow what took place ten or twenty years ago to influence our lives more than what's currently happening. A disturbing childhood event can leave us frozen with doubt and fear. We may begin to believe consciously or unconsciously that we are either unable to have a happy life or are unworthy of having one. But these experiences can be transcended, opening us to a whole new level of joy.
Someone going through a divorce or a relationship breakup may think, "My life is ruined. I'll never be happy because she left me." He focuses more on his loss than on building a new life for himself. Anyone who has ever ended a relationship only to later enter into a better one knows that time heals this wound. The popular singer Garth Brooks expresses this idea beautifully in the song "Unanswered Prayers." In this song Brooks sings about running into his high school sweetheart and realizing how grateful he was that the relationship didn't work out. At the time it ended he felt pain about the loss. Since the breakup, however, he married a woman he truly loved, and because of all the love in this marriage he realized that the breakup was actually a blessing. The song serves as a reminder that sometimes when a prayer isn't answered, it is because there is something better in store for us. This is not to diminish the discomfort of a relationship ending. It can be painful and it takes time to heal. But it doesn't have to stop us from moving on and experiencing love again.
Financial strains and physical concerns can also leave us with little energy to create lives of joy. In such cases, the present situation can make us feel stuck and unable to move forward. Here it is very important to avoid the belief that our problems are somehow different from the problems other people have faced and are therefore unchangeable or special. Regardless of our situation, someone somewhere has already faced a similar set of circumstances and found a way to bring joy back into his or her life.
The fact is that none of us are entirely alone, facing insurmountable problems. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Most successful people have suffered disappointments and setbacks, if not utter failure. And everyone has had loss. It seems to come with the territory of being human. What also comes with the human condition is the ability to prevail over any challenge and to use our experiences for personal growth. For a while we may feel hopeless and unsure of what to do, but eventually we can find the strength and wisdom to use the experience for our highest good.
One person who has learned to use his experience to grow is a man I know named Jerry. To meet him, you would think he had lived a charmed life. He is strong, healthy, and always upbeat. Daily he concentrates on what he can do to make his dreams come true. Jerry faced the challenges of being a prisoner during the Korean War, having to learn to walk a second time after an injury, losing one home to an earthquake and another to a fire. He also lost a successful business due to a negligent business partner. Numerous tragedies have dotted his sixty-something years, yet Jerry still has a great belief in the miracle of life. His focus is on actualizing his goals and making others happy. When I call him and say, "Jerry, how are you?" his response is always, "If I were any better, I couldn't stand it."
I also know a woman named Gloria who has a deep love for life, even though she and her husband, Bob, lost their adult son to AIDS. They cared for him in their home the last two years of his life. It wasn't the firsttime she had faced tragedy. At another point in her life Gloria had been homeless and unable to care for her children because of her addiction to alcohol. She overcame her addiction and dedicated her life to helping others in similar situations. Gloria is a beautiful woman with an infectious laugh and a wonderful sense of humor. You never hear her lamenting her past. She is always focusing on her strong spiritual beliefs and how she can help someone in the present moment.
Neither Jerry nor Gloria has had an ideal life, yet both are purposeful and optimistic. They are good reminders that growing from painful experiences and living in the present moment are how we find joy and happiness.
There comes a point in each of our lives when we realize that we are responsible for our own joy. Long-lasting happiness can't come from another person or material possessions. We may enjoy being around people and developing rich relationships, and we can find short-term pleasure in a new car, house, or computer. After a while, though, we take things for granted. Our possessions don't shine as brightly as they did when we first acquired them. And the people we are closest to will sometimes disagree with us or need to focus their attention elsewhere.
Having the day-to-day joy we long for comes from understanding our basic human needs and developing ways to meet them. Abraham Maslow, a founder of modern humanistic psychology, has theorized that we have certain primary desires that must be satisfied in order for us to flourish. Maslow constructed a basic hierarchy of needs that many theorists have acknowledged and built upon. This hierarchy ranges from the basic need for food and shelter all the way to the higher need for purpose and self-actualization.
Anthony Robbins, author of Awaken the Giant Within, is a contemporary author who offers a classification of higher need that I find helpful. He talks about six human needs that people continuously seek to meet either consciously or unconsciously as they strive to survive and function at various levels of personal development in the world: certainty, uncertainty/variety, significance, connection, growth, and contribution.
In our need to have certainty in our lives, we pursue our basic physiological needs as well as a stable environment of peace, love, and joy. We pursue our need for uncertainty through variety, surprise, and small challenges. Our need for significance is met when we are recognized and appreciated by others and acknowledged for our contributions. Connection comes from loving others, being loved, and feeling a sense of belonging. This includes a connection to God or the divine source of all that is the universe. The need to grow is met by traditional education, individual exploration, and study, and most of all through life experiences. And the need to make a contribution and leave a legacy is fulfilled by finding work that has purpose, volunteering our time, tithing our money, and parenting our children.
Certain activities meet a variety of our needs. A man can take his family on a vacation and feel a sense of significance by paying for the vacation, connection from being with people he loves, variety or uncertainty because he is visiting a new place, and growth because he will learn about the local culture.
As simple as these needs are, the challenge comes when we try to find our unique style for meeting them in positive ways. The need for significance could be met by becoming the president of a major company or by joining a gang and carrying a gun. For some people, abusing alcohol and using drugs temporarily meets the need for connection with others. Someone might feel certainty because the drug makes him feel better, at least for a while. And he gains significance because being drunk or high enables him to delude himself into feeling more self-esteem. This is one of the challenges of these addictions. They can seem to meet so many of a person's needs. Often we are hooked before we realize that the alcohol or drug's ability to meet our needs is just an illusion.
The same idea applies to food. We can be certain that a little comfort food during times of stress will make us feel better, and there is an endless variety of foods to eat. Just look at all the ice cream flavors on the market. We get connection because we can be with friends while dining out. And significance comes in when someone eats only at the most popular restaurants or drinks only the best wines. We can also get significance by having the reputation of baking the best apple pie in our community. Food can be one of the greatest pleasures in life. It can also lead to obesity, disease, and various eating disorders if it becomes our only method of meeting our needs.
This is why learning to meet our needs consciously is so important. If we have a pattern of meeting our needs in destructive ways, we have to be wary. We need to learn to first understand which needs are being met by our destructive behavior and then look for another way to meet them. The same needs that we have seemed to satisfy through the abuse of food, alcohol, shopping, or sex can be met in a healthier, more productive manner.
Become an expert at recognizing how you are meeting your needs. If there is something you love to do, notice which needs are getting met. If there are activities you have to do but don't like, look closely at your reaction and notice which needs are not being met.
Beliefs About Life
I once attended a women's retreat where I met an elegant older woman named Ellen, who radiated optimism. At seventy she was graceful and refreshing to be around. On the last day of the retreat she and I took an early morning walk. As we walked, I questioned her about her optimism. "Ellen, have you always been this joyous about life?" I asked. Her immediate response was, "Oh, no, I used to be a very depressed person." A bit surprised by her answer, I asked her to tell me more. She described how she had once been a magazine editor in New York, always in a hurry, living by everyone else's standards, and never having an original thought or action. She came home from work one day and discovered that her husband of thirty-seven years had left her. She was shattered.
Her children became so worried about her that they insisted she take a trip to Hawaii to visit her college roommate. While there she did some soul-searching and came to several life-changing conclusions. I asked her what her greatest realization was, and she said, "I learned I had to accept life on life's terms and that the only things I really have control over in life are my actions and my ability to interpret events. If something happens to me that is painful, I have the choice to use it or allow it to devastate me."
She went on to tell me that her first trip to Hawaii ended up being so healing that she stayed an entire month. During her stay she coincidentally heard about a class that helped people understand their beliefs about life. Through the class she realized how many of her beliefs were either unrealistic or belonged to her deceased parents and her ex-husband. She also realized that her expectations for herself and others were sometimes too rigid. She was trying to live up to what everyone else said was best for her, which made her depressed and hard to be around at times. Once she changed her beliefs about herself and others, she began to smile more and enjoy life.
As we ended our walk, she turned to me and said, "Salle, this is my real secret to being a joyful person: I make my life easy. I spend more time being grateful for what I have instead of focusing on what isn't working. I no longer believe that people have to do things my way and that I have to be perfect."
Ellen used her divorce as a cosmic push to examine her beliefs about life. Fortunately we don't need a crisis to prod us into examining our beliefs and changing them when needed. Anytime we feel unrest or the simple desire to change our lives for the better, we can explore our beliefs.
Early in life we are taught to live according to the standards of others. Our parents as well as family members, the media, and people in the community influenced how we viewed the world. Appropriate behavior was understood quickly. And in order to be accepted and fit in, we acted a certain way.
If we hold the belief that "I can only be happy when life is the way I expect it to be and people treat me the way I want them to," we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Or if we believe we can only be happy when we have the perfect body, a fabulous job, and a house in the most prestigious neighborhood, we will regularly wake up frustrated.
There are many factors in life that we can't control. The world is forever changing. Homes become disorganized when there are children and hectic schedules. The weather doesn't always cooperate with our plans. And relationships cycle through the push/pull of doing things together and needing individual space. It becomes a waste of time and energy to hold ourselves and others up to perfectionistic standards that are based on a television program we saw or a book we read, or our own imagination.
For instance, I once heard a man talk about how he felt like a failure, even though he had an annual income of a million dollars and was working at his ideal occupation. This man was extremely unhappy, even though he had a wife who loved him dearly and was expecting their first child. He was in perfect health and living in a beautiful home overlooking the ocean. He was miserable because he believed he should be achieving more. In his mind he had failed to live up to his expectations and the expectations of his parents. He also had a belief that in order to succeed in life he must be serious all the time. Laughter was out. And he felt that he couldn't spend his weekends enjoying his favorite hobby, surfing, because that didn't fit into his image of being a father and a successful businessman.
Fortunately he explored his beliefs about life and realized that he was being too hard on himself. His wife was supportive of his love of surfing. And his parents were extremely proud of him. He adopted new beliefs that allowed him to relax and be grateful for all the blessings in his life.
This man's behavior may seem strange to someone who will never make a million dollars a year, yet we all behave this way on some level. We compare ourselves to others and think we aren't very successful, even though we have accomplished many things since the day we were born.
We may believe we don't have anything special to offer the world because someone in our childhood told us we didn't matter. Or we think we have to behave according to some hypothetical standard in order to be a good parent, businessperson, or community leader. Beliefs like these can create tremendous stress and prevent us from living lives full of inner peace and joy.
If you feel you limit yourself because of certain unconscious or outdated beliefs, take time to explore your beliefs and how they originated. Maybe when you were a child you heard someone make a passing remark about how women or men were supposed to behave. As a child you didn't have the ability to question the remark. You might have accepted it as truth. But now that you are older, you have the ability to form your own opinions.
To discover your beliefs, ask yourself questions like "What do I believe about money?" or "What needs to happen in order for me to be joyful?" Tailor these questions to any area of your life. And if you discover a belief that no longer serves you, replace it with a new belief.
Find a role model that lives life the way you want to and question his or her beliefs, if possible. Or imagine yourself being extremely joyful and ask yourself what types of beliefs you would hold about living life fully. This will give you an idea of new beliefs to adopt. Also practice having more fun and laughter in your life. This will shake out any old beliefs that say life has to be serious or all work.
Learn to play more. Relax and lighten up. Try new things. Connect with the beauty of the world. Make each day special. And, most of all, take time to be appreciative of your many assets. This will guarantee you more joyful beliefs and experiences in life.
The following meditation is designed to help you prepare for more joy in your life.
When doing the meditation, read each line or paragraph as a complete thought before moving on to the next line. Trust the thoughts that come, and make sure you take the time you need between questions. You might find it helpful to read a line or paragraph and then close your eyes and visualize what you've read. Or you may want to tape-record the meditation using your own voice and then play it back to yourself.
When you are ready to begin, go to a quiet, comfortable place where you won't be interrupted for about fifteen minutes.
You might find it helpful to have a pen and paper ready so that after the meditation you can write down any ideas that come to you.
As we begin the meditation, move around slightly until you are in a comfortable position . . .
Lower your shoulders and relax your hands and feet . . .
Now take a deep breath and count to five before releasing it . . .
Take another deep breath and feel your body releasing any tension as you breathe out . . .
Allow any thoughts that might be running through your mind to drift by . . .
Trust that in about fifteen minutes you can return to the events of the day . . .
Take about ten more seconds to totally let go . . .
Now see if you can remember a day that you believe was one of the most joyful days of your life . . .
Where were you and what were you doing? . . .
Remember as many details as possible . . .
What time of year was it? . . .
Who was with you? . . .
What were you doing that made you feel joyful? . . .
What else was special about this day? . . .
Can you remember your internal dialogue? Did you say things to yourself like "This is fun" or "I love this moment" or "I enjoy being around these people"? . . .
Were there any events during that day that met your need for connection or significance or contribution? . . .
How about your need for variety or personal growth? . . .
Which needs seemed to be met the most? . . .
Think again about the highlights of that day . . .
Intensify the positive feelings you get from this memory . . .
Would you like to have more joyful days like this one? . . .
What needs to happen in your life right now in order for you to do that? . . .
Would it help if you found more ways to meet your needs? . . .
Would it help to evaluate your beliefs about an area of your life that isn't the way you want it? If so, remember to find your belief by asking, "What do I believe is important in a relationship?" or "What do I believe has to happen in order for me to feel successful?" Tailor the question to the area you want to improve . . .
In order to feel more joy, do you need to accept or release something? . . .
Do you need to forgive yourself? . . .
Do you need to forgive someone else? . . .
What would you like to do in order to release or forgive? . . .
Now feel a sense of love and peace sweeping over you, melting away any concerns that might prevent you from having the joy you desire . . .
Take a few moments to feel all your concerns being lifted from you . . .
Take a deep breath and feel the release of the old . . .
Begin to smile as you think about how your life will be full of joyful moments from now on . . .
Decide on one joyful activity you could do within the next few days that would show you that you can have more joy in your life. Maybe you could watch a funny movie, read some poetry, or spend time with children . . .
In addition, consider doing something that will bring joy into someone else's day . . .
Also think about how joyful your life would be if you dedicated time each week to just play . . .
Think about how this would enhance your life . . .
When you are ready, come back to the present time feeling cleaner and happier . . .
Become aware of your surroundings . . .
Move your body around slightly to wake it up . . .
Take a few minutes to write down any ideas that might have come.
Over the next few days pay attention to any thoughts you might have that will empower you to awaken to more joy in your life. Keep in mind the joy you would experience if you took time each week to play, laugh, and enjoy the beauty around you.
Awaken the Giant Within. Anthony Robbins. Fireside Books, 1992.
A New Guide to Rational Living. Albert Ellis and Robert A. Harper. Wilshire Book Company, 1975.
A Woman's Worth. Marianne Williamson. Random House, 1993.
Change Your Life and Everyone in It. Michele Weiner-Davis. Fireside Books, 1996.
Living Without Procrastination: How to Stop Postponing Your Life. Susan M. Roberts, Ph.D. New Harbinger Publications, 1995.
Spontaneous Optimism. Michael Mercer and Maryann Troiani. Castlegate Publishers, 1998.
The Pursuit of Happiness. David G. Meyers. Avon Books, 1993.
Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem Making. John Fox. Putnam, 1997.
Excerpted from Creating a Life of Joy , by Salle Merrill Redfield . Copyright (c) 1999 by Salle Merrill Redfield . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top