Simple Tips For Living a More Joyful Life

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We tend to think that joy is a product of stepping away from life and finding little ways to take a break or enjoy ourselves. While that can be important, just doing this only leads to fleeting moments of happiness. But how do we find real joy in our daily life without having to take time away from work, family, or the other aspects of our lives?

Theology of the Body reminds us that Joy is the fruit of living a meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life. Joy is that quality that allows us to have a deeper sense of rightness and contentment about our lives even when things are a little crazy or not going the way we’d like. Because Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, you can’t pursue Joy directly. Cultivating joy means dedicating oneself to a life of meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue regardless of our circumstances.

Here are three More2LifeHacks for Cultivating Joy in your Heart:

Keep the Big Picture in Mind–Joy requires us to be able to step out of the chaos of everyday life and remember who we are and what’s important. This requires us to stay connected to God–to be able to see things from his point of view. Find ways to bring the present moment to God no matter how crazy it is. Ask him, “What do you want this moment to look like? How can I respond to this in a way that glorifies you?” Then re-engage the situation from this more graceful perspective. Keeping the big picture in mind helps you remain connected to what’s important.

Be Kind–True joy comes from seeking little ways to be a gift to others all day long.  As you go about your day, consciously ask yourself how you can make a difference in this moment?  Is there something you can do to make this person’s day even a little easier or more pleasant?  Is there something you can do to take down the tension in this situation?  Is there some way you can surprise someone with a small thoughtful gesture or little act of service? You don’t have to be a martyr about it.  In fact, it’s better if you aren’t.  Just look for those little ways to be a gift or create caring connection while you’re passing by or passing through.  These little acts of kindness increase your joy by helping you see all the ways you are making a positive difference in your world and in the lives of those around you.

– Stay In School–Research shows that joyful people are eager students in the “school of life.”  Joyful people are always open to seeing things from a new perspective, trying a new experience, and growing in ways that help them be stronger, healthier, more well-rounded people.  Joyful people aren’t shy about sharing what they like.  They know who they are and what they stand for, but they are open to discovering all the ways God is revealing himself to them through the people and the world around them.  And the more ways we open ourselves to this experience of God the more his grace makes us joyful. So, be yourself, but don’t be afraid to be more, learn more and grow more.

For more tips on living a joy-filled life, tune in to More2Life Monday-Friday 10am E/9am C on Sirius XM 139 and check out my book, The Life God Wants You to Have!

More2Life Hack: Living A More Joyful Life

image via shutterstock

image via shutterstock

It seems as though so many things in life are constantly trying to steal our joy. From politics, to work stress, to the craziness of daily life, it can be hard to find the joy in each day.

We tend to think that joy is a product of stepping away from life and finding little ways to take a break or enjoy ourselves.  Taking breaks can be important, but while doing this can lead to fleeting moments of happiness, it doesn’t lead to joy. The Theology of the Body reminds us that Joy is the fruit of living a meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life. Joy is that quality that allows us to have a deeper sense of rightness and contentment about our lives even when things are a little crazy or not going the way we’d like.  Because Joy is a FRUIT of the Holy Spirit, you can’t pursue Joy directly. Cultivating joy means dedicating oneself to a life of meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue regardless of our circumstances.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for cultivating joy in your heart:

1. Keep the Big Picture in Mind–Joy requires us to be able to step out of the chaos of everyday life and remember who we are and what’s important.  This requires us to stay connected to God–to be able to see things from his point of view. Find ways to bring the present moment to God no matter how crazy it is. Ask him, “What do you want this moment to look like? How can I respond to this in a way that glorifies you?” Then re-engage the situation from this more graceful perspective. Keeping the big picture in mind helps you remain connected to what’s important

2. Be Kind–True joy comes from seeking little ways to be a gift to others all day long. As you go about your day, consciously ask yourself how you can make a difference in this moment? Is there something you can do to make this person’s day even a little easier or more pleasant? Is there something you can do to take down the tension in this situation? Is there some way you can surprise someone with a small thoughtful gesture or little act of service? You don’t have to be a martyr about it. In fact, it’s better if you aren’t. Just look for those little ways to be a gift or create caring connection while you’re passing by or passing through. These little acts of kindness increase your joy by helping you see all the ways you are making a positive difference in your world and in the lives of those around you.

3. Stay In School–Research shows that joyful people are eager students in the “school of life.”  Joyful people are always open to seeing things from a new perspective, trying a new experience, and growing in ways that help them be stronger, healthier, more well-rounded people.  Joyful people aren’t shy about sharing what they like. They know who they are and what they stand for, but they are open to discovering all the ways God is revealing himself to them through the people and the world around them.  And the more ways we open ourselves to this experience of God the more his grace makes us joyful. So, be yourself, but don’t be afraid to be more, learn more and grow more.

For more information on how to live a more Joyful life, check out my book Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, or give us a call at Pastoral Solutions Institute (740.266.6461)

Don’t forget to tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio/SiriusXM 130.

5 Steps To More Joyful Living

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Today on More2Life Radio, Lisa and I revealed what our Catholic faith and the latest studies from positive psychology have to teach us about living more joyfully.

Does God Want Us to Be Happy?

A lot of Christians question whether God wants us to be be happy.  I’ve even heard people say, “God doesn’t want us to be happy.  He wants us to be holy.”  But as I argue in Broken Gods:  Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, the two are far from mutually exclusive.   To be holy is to dedicate ourselves to pursuing a closer relationship with God.  Drawing closer to God helps us to discover God’s plan for our life and when we function according to that plan, we are are happy to be functioning as we were designed to function.  Authentic happiness does not stand in opposition to holiness.  It is made possible by it.  As Pope St. John Paul the Great put it. “People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But he asks you to trust him.

5 Skills for Increasing Happiness in Your Life

Using the acronym STAGE (Savor, Thanks, Aspire, Give, Empathize), here are 5 skills to practice that can help you increase the joy in your daily life.

Savor–refers to our ability to pause, reflect and live life more mindfully.  To savor our day mean to both recognize the blessings of the day and to reflect on the direction of our life and relationships.  Savoring life allows us to really connect and be present in the moment,to enjoy each moment for what it is, and make conscious decisions about the direction of my life.  Research consistently shows that the ability to be mindful is directly related

Thanks–contributes to joy by helping us be grateful.  Ample research shows that simple gratitude-based activities, like keeping a daily list of 3-5 things we are genuinely grateful for, can increase our “happiness set-point” by at least 20%.

Aspire–refers to our ability to set goals and meet them.  Whether setting and keeping larger life goals, or setting simple goals for the day, the more we are confident in our ability to set and meet goals the more “self-efficacy” we have.  Self-efficacy refers to our capacity to know we can do what we set out to do. It goes to our sense of personal power which contributes to our experience of joy because we are less likely to feel we must simply be dragged along wherever life wants to take us.

Give–reminds us that being self-donative–being generous with our time, talent–, and treasure is an important way to remember that we have the power to contribute to the well-being of others which, in turn, makes us feel good about who we are and what we have.   In Broken Gods (see chapter on The Divine Longing for Trust) I walk readers through several studies that show how  generosity is a key component of joyful living.

Empathize–the more we can make true heart-to-heart connections with those who share our lives the more joy we will experience.  Research consistently shows that the stronger our relationships and social networks are, the happier we will be.  Empathy is the quality that transforms a host of causal acquaintances into true friends who care deeply for us and about whom we can care deeply in return.

Everyone wants to be happier.  With these five skills, you can set the STAGE for greater happiness and real joy in your life.  For more tips on increasing the happiness and joy in your life, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.

 

 

Does God Want YOU to Be Happy? Read Pope Francis’ 10 Point Happiness Plan

When I ask people, “What do you want?”  The #1 answer I get is, “I just want to be happy.”  Happiness is a hard enough goal to achieve but Christians have an extra hurdle.  Upon expressing a francis laughdesire for happiness, many of my Catholic clients immediately say, “But I feel guilty because God doesn’t really care about my happiness. He wants me to be holy.”

Are Happiness and Holiness Mutually Exclusive?

I have often heard the phrase, “God desires our holiness more than our happiness.”  I understand the sentiment, but I don’t necessarily agree and I’m fairly certain our Church doesn’t agree either.  I think this view is predicated on the notion that authentic happiness and holiness are mutually exclusive.  If that were true, I would certainly think that choosing holiness was the better part.   But I would suggest that this is an error.  The truth is that holiness is actually the fruit of authentic happiness–it is difficult to have the former if you don’t have the latter.

“Authentic Happiness”  VS.  Mere Enjoyment

Psychologists define “authentic happiness”  as the stable experience of joy that comes from pursuing a life that is meaningful (i.e., uses one’s gifts to benefit others), intimate (i.e., having healthy, bene laughrich, loving relationships), and virtuous (i.e., exhibiting the strength to use whatever life throws at you as an opportunity for growth and development). Authentic happiness is differentiated from mere enjoyment, which is transient and rooted in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of conflict.  The answer to the question of whether God desires our happiness, I would argue, depends on whether you define happiness as “authentic happiness”  (what we Christians call the virtue of “Joy”)  or mere enjoyment.

Authentic Happiness Facilitates Holiness

Assuming that you mean “authentic happiness/joy” I would suggest that the pursuit of happiness–especially if it is done in a spirit of prayer– actually facilitates holiness because true holiness is the fruit of an attempt to live a meaningful, intimate and virtuous life in cooperation with God’s grace.  It is exactly because of this understanding that Popes have made so many statements in support of the pursuit of happiness.

3 Popes Say, “Be Happy!”

For instance, Pope St. John Paul the Great said in 2002, “People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But he asks you to trust him.”

Pope Benedict XVI, picked up the theme of authentic happiness specifically when he said in 2012, “God wants us to be happy always. He knows us and he loves us. If we allow the love of Christ happy jpiito change our heart, then we can change the world. This is the secret of authentic happiness.”  

Today, an Argentine newspaper printed the first part of a multipart interview with Pope Francis in which he lists his thoughts on a 10-point plan for happiness.  Here is a summary of those points.

Pope Francis 10-pt Happiness Plan

1.  Acceptance–The Pope said, “The Romans have a saying, which can be taken as a point of reference.  They say: Campa e lascia campà’ (live and let live). That’s the first step to peace and happiness.”  

I suspect this comment will raise some eye-brows, but I think there is something deeper going on here than the Pope saying–as some might suggest–that its none of our business how other people live.  Rather, I think his point is rooted in the Ignatian practice (he is a Jesuit after all) of “charitable interpretation” in which we realize that even when people aren’t being their best, they have what they consider to be good reasons for acting that way.  Unless we know those reasons (and we won’t unless they tell us) then we are obliged to assume that they are where God wants them to be right now and that he is working things out in their life in his own good time.    This benevolent acceptance is different than permissiveness that says, “Do what you want, I don’t care.”  which, I would suggest, and I suspect the Pope would agree is actually quite contrary to the Gospel.”

2.  Giving oneself to others.  —“Be giving of yourself to others.” People need to be open and generous toward others, he said, because “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”

3.  Take time for quiet reflection/mindfulness.   — “Proceed calmly” cultivate, “the ability to move with kindness and humility, a calmness in life.”

4.  Enjoying leisure time with family.  –Francis then recalled that when he was in Buenos Aires, he would often ask young mothers how often they play with their children.  “It was an unexpected question,” he said. “It is hard. The parents go to work and come back when the children are asleep.” But he said although it is difficult to find the time, “it must be done.”

5.   Make Sunday a family day. —“Sunday is for family,” 

6.  Meaningful & rewarding work.–“It’s not enough to give them food,” he said. “Dignity is given to you when you can bring food home”

7.  Taking time in nature and caring for it– “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'”

8.  Respecting differences between people–“We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing,”

9.  Letting go of offenses and renouncing negativity–“Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. That means, ‘I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down,'”  Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.”

10.  Seek to make peace with others.–“the call for peace must be shouted. Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive”

Bottom line, the Church is not an enemy of your happiness.  The Church wants you to experience the kind of authentic happiness that satisfies your heart and your soul, both in the present and in the hereafter as well!

If you’d like to learn more about how your faith can help you be happier in your life and relationships, I’d invite you to learn more about the Pastoral Solutions Institute Tele-Counseling practice. Let us help you experience what living the Joy of the Gospel can do for your marriage, family and personal life.

Science Supports Theology of the Body: Your Happiness Type is Expressed in Your Genes

The Theology of the Body tells us that each person was made for self donation and that if we want to be happy, we need to make a gift of ourselves.   It further tells us that when we treat others, or ourselves, as objects of pleasure, we break down spiritually and emotionally because we are acting in a manner that is inconsistent with God’s plan and our design.    This sounds like a lovely theological speculation, but what if it was physiologically true as well?

This week, researchers at UCLA  demonstrated that the type of happiness you pursue in life effect your overall well-being on a genetic level.   That is not to say that the level of happiness you experience is genetic, but rather the kinds of happiness you seek in life actually effect you on a genetic level.

Researchers discovered that people who, as a matter of habit, chase after “hedonic happiness”  (the pleasure that comes from partying, sex, overeating, drinking, etc.) show physical evidence of gene expression that resulted in higher inflammatory response and the lower production of anti-viral and antibodies in their immune cells.  This response is similar to the physiological response of depressed or exhausted individuals.

By contrast, people who pursue, as a matter of habit, “eudaimonic happiness”  (happiness that comes from pursuing the greater good) show physical evidence of gene expression that resulted in less inflammation and a stronger immune response (i.e., higher production of antiviral and antibodies in their immune cells).    This particular pattern of gene expression is associated with better physical well-being and overall good health.

The truly surprising thing was that both groups claimed to feel good.  Both groups claimed to be happy and well, but only the people who habitually pursued the greater good experienced  the good health–all the way down to the genetic level– that ought to accompany their happiness.

In the words of the researchers…

 

And while those with eudaimonic well-being showed favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells and those with hedonic well-being showed an adverse gene-expression profile, “people with high levels of hedonic well-being didn’t feel any worse than those with high levels of eudaimonic well-being,” Cole said. “Both seemed to have the same high levels of positive emotion. However, their genomes were responding very differently even though their emotional states were similarly positive.    What this study tells us is that doing good and feeling good have very different effects on the human genome, even though they generate similar levels of positive emotion,” he said. “Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds.”

St Thomas Aquinas talked about the “two books” that reveal truth; the “books” of nature and revelation.  Something that is true in one “book” cannot be contradicted by the other.  Faith and reason should go together.  That’s why I’m so excited when I can point to studies that show the clear link between these two sources of truth.  Pope John Paul II proposed the Theology of the Body as a vision for how we are to live, but living according to that vision is only good if it can be shown to help us achieve our potential as human persons–as he claims it should.  Research like this demonstrates that JPII’s claims hold up not just to theological debate, but scientific investigation as well.   The Theology of the Body is not just theological speculation.  It’s assertions, particularly the idea that we can only discover God’s plan for our lives and true happiness by making a generous gift of ourselves and living in mutually self-donative relationships, are true on every level, including–as you might expect for a theology of the body–the physical level.

To learn more about how you can increase the happiness in your life, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Tele-Counseling Service  (740-266-6461).  You can work with a faithful, professional, Catholic counselor to help you experience more joy in your marriage, family, or personal life.