By James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander, Experience Life
“Joy is not for just the lucky few,” says James Baraz, a longtime meditation teacher and cofounder of the renowned Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, Calif. “It’s a choice anyone can make.” Each year since 2003, Baraz has taught a 10-month course, both online and at the center, called “Awakening Joy.” Its goal: to help participants increase their daily quotient of positive feelings.
The material is based on universal, nondenominational principles that draw on both Buddhist philosophy and on contemporary neuroscientific studies that show we can deliberately incline our minds toward greater happiness. The seven suggestions that follow will give you a glimpse of his joyful prescription and help you understand how to put it to work in your own life.
1. Imagine Happiness
Any activity, when performed repetitively, changes the structure of the brain. But even repeatedly imagining an activity has an impact on neural structure. Researchers at Harvard Medical School demonstrated this with an experiment where they asked one group to play a five-finger exercise on the piano over the course of a week. A comparison group was asked to merely imagine moving their fingers to play the same exercise. Though actively playing the exercise had a greater impact on brain structure than imagining it, by the end of the week, the same region of the brain in both groups had been significantly affected.
Each day, deliberately imagine yourself happy. Picture yourself in a situation with people you really like, or engaged in an activity that gives you a lot of pleasure. By actively imagining feelings of happiness or recalling happy experiences, you can help to encourage changes in your brain that will predispose you to creating more real-life joy in your daily experiences.