Few practices are more transformative than focusing on what brings you joy. In this series of articles, I’ll share four reasons why taking in the good is so important. We’ll cover the first two reasons here.

1. Our joy matters.

I believe that one small reason we’re at the point of imminent global self-destruction is that we changemakers have a hard time sustaining our energy and enjoying our work. Too often, we overwork, over-give, overdo, get resentful and curmudgeonly, get mired in interpersonal conflict, burn out, and in the end, drop out altogether. Folks who consider getting involved see how hard it looks and opt out.

It isn’t our fault that so many systems of oppression make it so hard to care for ourselves and our communities. And, it is our responsibility to choose our norms of engagement.

As people who are summoned to hold the seeds of the world we know is possible, it is our responsibility to learn to hold complexity— the both-and. We are called to create a world in which all people have the freedom and power to feel fully alive, including ourselves. It is our right and responsibility to acknowledge our joy.

2. When we take in the good, we develop the ability to feel, think, and act the way we want.

Like all humans, you grow thousands of new neurons every day—cells within your body-brain that hold and transmit information. You learn new things by forming and strengthening links between your neurons.

We generate new neurons and strengthen connections between them (a process called neuroplasticity) by repeatedly focusing our attention.

For example, if you play lots of video games, the parts of your brain associated with video game playing will strengthen. If you write, the parts of your brain associated with writing grow. If you practice listening attentively to others, the parts of your brain associated with listening grow.

In Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson writes that each time we pay attention to how we feel when we experience a desired feeling, thought, or behavior—and enhance and absorb the sensations, we strengthen the neural synapses associated with that experience. We develop the ability to experience more of that feeling, thought, or behavior.

With enough practice, the new neural patterns become strong enough, and the new feeling, thought, or behavior becomes habitual.

So, if you want to feel more joy, pay careful attention to when you feel joy—talking with an old friend, riding your bike, looking at the leaves on the tree. If you want to feel more energetic, pay attention to when you feel energetic—taking a walk, stretching your body, or reading your kids a story. And enhance and absorb the sensations, imagining the cells of your body are tiny sponges taking in the good.

Click here to read 4 Reasons Why Taking in the Good is so Important: Part Two.


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