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Cultivating Joy as Practice and Discipline

Cultivating Joy as Practice and Discipline

Live in joy. in love,
Even among those who hate.
Live in joy, in health.
Even among the afflicted.
Live in joy, in peace,
Even among the troubled.
Look within. Be still.
Free from fear and attachment,
Know the sweet joy of the way.
—The Buddha, from the Dhammapada, Thomas Byrom, translator

The Buddha taught about many forms of joy as both the path of practice and its fruit. 

Many practitioners know about mudita, sympathetic joy or delighting in the happiness of others.  Mudita is one of the four Brahmaviharas or Divine Abodes, along with loving kindness, compassion and equanimity. The awakened heart is naturally kind and friendly, wishing others well. And when this kind heart meets suffering it spontaneously responds with compassion, caring about the suffering and wishing to help. When the awakened heart meets beauty, goodness and happiness, it spontaneously delights. Mudita is a powerful antidote to habitual tendencies of comparison and jealousy.

One reason these qualities are called the Divine Abodes is because when our minds are dwelling in these beautiful qualities we live in heaven. But, since many of us are not yet abiding full time in heaven, it can be a steep challenge to call up joy in the face of someone else getting the love and accolades we long for, particularly when we aren’t connected with the joy, happiness and goodness in our own lives. 

The great news is that the Buddha taught many other kinds of joy and happiness that we can cultivate to nourish ourselves. We can start by filling our own cups, so that they naturally overflow into delighting in the happiness of others. 

Along with mudita, the forms of joy Buddha points to in many discourses include:

  • Pamojja – translated as gladness, delight, joy and happiness. It often comes first in lists of forms of joy as a result of virtuous action or an outcome of faith. It leads to the more energized form of joy, piti. 
  • Piti – translated as bliss, rapture, delight, enthusiasm, happiness, and joyful interest.  Piti is often associated with meditative concentration. It refreshes and energizes the mind. This mental factor is often accompanied by pleasant, uplifting physical sensations.
  • Sukha – is translated as pleasure, ease, satisfaction and happiness. It has the same etymological root as sugar and thus there is a kind of sweetness in it. In many lists within the Pali Canon, sukha follows piti as the energy of piti settles and smoothes out into a sweet happiness that leads directly into deep states of concentration. In fact, it is often taught as an indispensable condition for attaining concentration.  

These forms of happiness and wellbeing are also vital steps along the path to full awakening. They are included among the Seven Factors of Awakening and the steps of Transcendental Dependent Origination

Cultivating joy is a deep practice and a discipline, as noted by Ross Gay, a poet and English professor. For one calendar year, he asked himself  “what delights me” and wrote a daily essay. He turned many of these essays into the Book of Delights. He writes that finding delight every day was a “discipline and rigor” and over time he developed a “delight muscle” and “delight radar” to support him. 

What could you delight in right now? 
How might you develop a discipline of cultivating all the many forms of joy, happiness and delight in your life?

Resources for Cultivating Joy

This Joy” by the Resistance Revival Chorus 

The Book of Delights by Ross Gay.