Contributor: Kaia Roman
Photographer: Westland Photography
For a very long time, I forgot what joy felt like, and was desperate to get it back. Eventually I realized that the way I’d been living my life, tuned to the constant drumbeat of worry, was making me sick, miserable, and would probably kill me. Thankfully, at a critical moment, I received an unusual piece of advice.
“Find joy for 30 days,” my best friend Niko said. Although joy felt as distant as a dream, her premise was enticing: joy for 30 days would be long enough to change my life. I called it “The Joy Plan.”
The Joy Plan was a 30-day experiment in the laboratory of my own mind. It was not born from joy! It was a last-ditch attempt at salvaging the vestiges of my broken confidence, spirit, and future. I was never sure that it would work.
But it did. I mean, WOW, did it ever. And it didn’t even take that long! Once I cracked the code—once I figured out how to harness the neurobiology of joy and apply it in simple ways every day—my life morphed before my very eyes. I even wrote a book about it to make sure I didn’t forget how I did it (The Joy Plan, a “memoir with benefits,” available here.)
Through small daily actions of gratitude, mindfulness, and kindness, I trained my brain to gravitate toward optimism. I built up the emotional muscle memory of joy and shifted my world view as well as my world.
And now I finally know how to find joy and go there often.
If this sounds like something you’d like to try, I encourage you to make joy your top priority for 30 days. Here are some guidelines that may help:
1. Focus on the feeling, rather than the results.
Instead of bumming out about not having everything you want yet, try to focus on how excited you are about it all being on its way. The feeling of wanting something can be harnessed like an internal engine, strongly propelling us in the direction of our desire.
2. Find joy first.
When you’re overwhelmed or full of fear, abandon the normally prescribed practice of "pushing through." There are times when it’s best to just “give up,” until you find a way to shift your perspective so you can move forward with more ease.
3. Gratitude is freaking magical.
Look for opportunities to appreciate the many blessings in your life, and as you appreciate those blessings, more will come. Practice looking for the silver lining in every situation like your life depends on it. Because ultimately, your experience of life does depend on this. While there are many things that are beyond your control, your attitude is always up to you.
4. Let go of control and let life reveal the plan to you.
One of the most powerful tools I’ve found to make the shift from anxious and joyless to grateful and optimistic is the practice of taking things less seriously, and finding joy in the process, not just the end result. Let go of your tight hold old the reigns and TRUST.
5. Look for ways to say “YES” instead of “NO.
Notice all the times you have the urge to complain. And challenge yourself to shift your focus from a problem to a solution. This is not always easy, but it’s oh so simple.
6. Notice the bitch in your head.
We all have that voice in our heads. You know the one. Mine takes every opportunity to tell me what a failure I am. But as long as I realize whose message that is, as long as I remember that it isn’t “true” just because I think it—I can let her voice fade to an annoying whine, while I focus on something more pleasant. Like joy.
7. The more you practice showing up in joy, the easier it becomes.
Joy is a healthy habit. Just like exercise, eating vegetables, getting enough sleep, and drinking plenty of water, joy is important for our mental and physical health. It’s a habit that we must prioritize and practice every day. It gets easier with time, and stronger with repetition.
Repetition is the key to forming new habits of thought in the brain, which then become new feelings, new actions, and eventually a new experience of life. 30 days is long enough to form these new habits and put this new lifestyle into place. It just takes dedication. I hope you give it a try!
*This post is partially excerpted from The Joy Plan: How I Took 30 Days to Stop Worrying, Quit Complaining, and Find Ridiculous Happiness. Available everywhere books are sold July 11. Pre-order on Amazon.