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The 10 Rules for a great life – #10 Cultivate joy

If I only had one rule for life, this would be it.


Cultivate joy.


This is my own personal mission statement (yeah, yeah), a two-word reason for being that I use to measure every single major life decision I’ve got. So far, it’s worked out pretty well.


To me, if you can “cultivate joy” within yourself and then cultivate it in the people and world around you, you win life. Simple as that. It’s an attitude that fuses together emotional intelligence elements such as “optimism” and “grit” to allow you to create what you want. This is my benchmark for success. Not good grades. Not amazing sports acumen. Simply the ability to cultivate joy.


I’ve had a long, happy career as a writer. And a photographer. And a speaker. And a blogger. And about a dozen other things. I’m not the world’s best at any of these pursuits, but I am a winner at taking direction and insight with a great big smile on my face. I make friends easily and as a result, have had the great opportunity to build my businesses.


When I look around, I feel like most that I know spend time in looped misery. They complain and trudge through life, instead of seeing every breath as a chance at adventure. Of course there will be times for sadness, anger and dismay. I believe that these things shouldn’t comprise your operating principle. Cultivating Joy should be the way you live your life. A trip to the grocery store could turn into a trip to Tijuana. Who knows? It isn’t happiness per se, it’s more giddiness. It’s a hearth of possibility within you, one that radiates outward and inspires other to also cultivate joy.


Knowing what “cultivate joy” is one thing. Understanding how to make it happen is very much another.


It’s easy to say that you’re either born with the disposition or you’re not. I see that superficially with my own blended family. Some of the kids seem more in line with my idea of cultivating joy than others. But there’s the trick. There isn’t one single way to Cultivate Joy. Each child has his or her own perspective on it, so “my idea of cultivating joy” should only work for me.


With my kids, I look to what brings them joy and work to foster that. As always, I start with good modeling, letting them see how I’m (mostly) joyful, and how I touch the world around me. When they see how I’m involved with my community or how I tackle anything as an adventure, they can draw on that to match their own personalities.  


I combine that good modeling with a bit of a challenge – know yourself and what you want. Because when you do and you can articulate it, you experience a sense of empowerment and purpose. This approach is really a lifelong pursuit – you might argue that it’s the entire purpose of parenting. It’s a little different for each age group. I can’t say to a two-year-old, “know yourself.” Instead, I can teach her to be calm when she isn’t getting something that she wants at that particular moment. As she calms, I get her to articulate her needs.


I’m finding that “ritual” is also a great part of cultivating joy. Around here, we create events to which we look forward. We’re crazy for Halloween, spending hours setting up zombies, shopping for discount decorations the day after the big event and planning. In the summer, we market hop on Saturday mornings, grabbing breakfast and having a good time. What’s most important isn’t the actual ritual, but the lead up to the ritual. We talk about Halloween or the market days and weeks before it happens. We get excited about anything and everything that we can create, and that creates a purse sense of joy.


The third thing I do is a new thing. I need the kids to understand that cultivating joy really means about connecting with the idea of “what is right.” Take volunteering as an example. I don’t want my kids to volunteer or contribute because it makes them feel good about who they are (“look at me – I just did this great thing for that downtrodden person). Instead, you should do it for their joy. Contribute often and be selfless in how you contribute and you make the world a better place.


If you’ve been following along with the rules I’ve listed out over the past few months, you’ll also see where I’m going here. The operational part of cultivating joy – meaning the day-to-day part of it – comes a whole lot more easily when you can perform the other nine rules on the list


1. Breathe

2. Break it Down

3. Try

4. Try Again

5. Care About Important Things

6. Be Ready for Anything

7. Say What You Need

8 Understand Others

9. Appreciate 

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