It came as no surprise to a woman we'll call Joan when, after 16 years of marriage, she and her husband started discussing the possibility of divorce. Deep down she'd never believed that her marriage, or any marriage, could be genuinely happy. Still, the reality was crushing. "I was desperate," she says. "I thought, 'I'd do anything to feel better.'"
How about singing every day, making lists of things that made her happy, and getting a "joy buddy"?
Those are among the suggestions given in Awakening Joy, a class taught by James Baraz, a meditation instructor and founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. A series of exercises, lectures, and meditations stretched over ten months, Awakening Joy is designed to bring more happiness to people's lives.
Like some participants, Joan, who heard about the program while attending a meditation retreat at Spirit Rock, initially balked at the idea of singing. "I thought James wanted me to join a choir," she says, "but I took it on faith that the singing was going to work." So she started trilling along with the Hairspray soundtrack while driving. "It seemed ridiculous, but that's what initially helped me the most."
"The course uses practices that lead the mind toward states of happiness and well-being," says Baraz. "In other words, it teaches you to focus on how it feels to feel good." The first and most important step, he says, is intention: making the decision to be happy. Robert Holden, PhD, author of Happiness Now! Timeless Wisdom for Feeling Good Fast and director of the Happiness Project in the United Kingdom, agrees that this is key. "'Intention' is another word for 'focus.' Whatever you focus on will become more apparent and will grow. For centuries, optimists and pessimists have argued over who's right, and the answer is they both are; each sees what they're looking for. If you focus on happiness, that's what you become more aware of."