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 what I’d been anticipating. I’d done years of therapy, read dozens of self-help books, and participated in countless self-growth classes, all of which I believed had made me into a somewhat happier person.
But after my mother’s pronouncement, that as a child I was already “a joy,” I had an epiphany: Underneath all of my labels, stories, selective memories, and assumptions about how others saw me, I already was the person I had been trying to become: I was a joy.
I have gotten a lot of mileage from this insight. But for the epiphany to stick, I needed to put my new belief into practice—and I needed to practice holding onto it. That’s where those years of soaking up all of that self-growth wisdom, studying sacred texts from various faith traditions, and the science of happiness, came in handy. I drew on what I had learned to create Five Rules on the Road to Happiness. I offer them to you now, so you too can wake up to the joy that’s been yours all along.
1. It’s your mood. You can increase your level of joy and happiness by choosing where to put your attention (on negative or positive thoughts, on people who uplift you or those who drain energy from you) and creating and maintaining positive intentions.
2. It’s an inside job. No one else can make you happy. That’s good news because it means no one else can control of how you experience your life. The tricky part 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. No one can guarantee your good spirits because finding true contentment is an active and ongoing process — it’s never a done deal. Living a full and meaningful life requires attention, practice and a commitment to healthy ways of being.
5. The fast track to feeling good. Yes, living a joyful life takes some effort, but it’s not hard work. Simply shifting your thoughts and feelings to gratitude and loving kindness are easy ways to connect with your joyous heart.