We can't force joy, but we can prepare the ground for it.
Joy is something deeper than pleasure or happiness: it makes us whole. It touches our mind, body, and heart. It makes us dance, sing, and laugh. Joy paints the whole universe with colors. Of course, joy cannot be forced, but by cultivating certain attitudes on a daily basis we can favor joyfulness, and that will give us a new quality to our entire existence.
1Open your heart
Opening our heart means being open to all the good in people and the world. At the same time, it means accepting a certain level of vulnerability. We need to keep watch over our heart to discern good thoughts and feelings from bad. Healthy thoughts lead to peace and joy; unhealthy ones lead to disturbance and unhappiness.
2Enjoy the ordinary things of everyday life
Often, ordinary experiences can lead to joy when they lead us beyond themselves to reveal, at least implicitly, the glory and goodness of God. We’ve all had this kind of experience, when we’ve been moved by the beauty of the sea, a baby’s smile, a glorious summer sunset, or the immensity of a forest. Learning to appreciate the goodness and beauty of the people and things around us, paying conscious attention to the present moment, can be a source of wonder and joy.
3Be present in the moment
Being totally involved in what we’re doing—as if it were the most important thing in the world—helps us tend towards true joy. We often spend time lamenting the past or worrying about the future, but the only way we can redeem the past and ensure a better future is to act in the present moment. That’s where we need to focus.
4Be confident about life
The word “confidence” comes form Latin: “con” means “with” and “fides” means “faith.” Confidence is therefore an act of faith: believing in each other and in life. Cultivating this attitude means trying to love life just as it is, with its ups and downs, its moments of happiness and sadness. It means trusting in the providence of God, even when we don’t understand why some things happen or see how they can lead to good.
5Love others selflessly
Altruistic love that consists in rejoicing in other people’s happiness is a source of true joy. When we love making other people happy, we have many opportunities to be joyful when we respond to the daily needs of those around us with acts of generosity, service, and love, no matter how small.
6Be creative as often as possible
By cultivating our creativity, we experience a connection with who we really are deep down: the image and likeness of God the Creator. Creativity isn’t just for professional artists; we can all be creative every day, in our ordinary activities and hobbies. We can all become more creative and make our lives works of art by using our imagination and not letting ourselves be dominated by routine in our job, our relationships, etc.
7Practice gratitude every day
People who are thankful—who list their daily blessings, write thank-you notes, or just say “thank you” to people—experience more positive emotions. It’s particularly helpful if we are grateful even in times of difficulty, recognizing how adversity can also be a blessing, recognizing God’s providential hand in all things. It helps us take the focus off ourselves and recognize the goodness in people around us, and encourages us to focus on the positive in all situations.
Paradoxically, in the face of difficulties or trials for which we cannot find any solution, if we finally accept things as they are, we can find joy and relief, not just resignation. We need to accept that we are not in control of everything that happens in our lives, or else we will be in a state of constant stress. We need to trust in God, do what we can, and accept uncertainty, knowing that the outcome may be better for us than we expect, even though it’s not always what we hoped for.
Perseverance in our enterprises is almost always a source of joy. Overcoming obstacles may require painful effort, but it makes the result that much more precious and satisfying. It helps us rise above ourselves, which has value independent of the material result of our efforts. It’s here that we see that joy truly is different from comfort!
10Be silent and listen to God
Meditation—setting aside the outside world, our worries, and our anxieties to focus on the presence of God—brings us peace, serenity, and calm that soothes our inner turmoil. We don’t need to use words to communicate with God; he speaks to us in silence, in our interior. Experiencing the presence of God and letting him enlighten our mind and heart means having contact with the source and meaning of our existence, the Creator who loves us and made us to know, love, and serve Him. There is no greater joy than experiencing, knowing, and loving God; this is the joy of heaven itself, the beatific vision, and in prayer we can experience at least a small taste of it.