For a while, I've been experimenting with the practice of appreciative joy. It has been challenging, liberating, and everything in-between. Through slow integration, I continue to come closer and closer to living my values and showing up as a truly am.
You may be asking what is appreciative joy? The Awaken Into Relationships (AIR) Program with Kiyomi LaFleur and Alexis De Los Santos, describes this concept as a timeless quality of love, and defines it as “gratitude and rejoicing in others happiness and peace. Moving away from envy, jealousy, and judgement”.
Appreciative joy also relates to the Metta Sutta, the Buddha’s discourse on loving kindness, which as Sharon Salzberg states, “cultivates a steady, unconditional sense of connection that touches all beings without exception”.
But how do we actually integrate this practice, especially when working through past wounds and projections? Given the nature of the mind, I think it is fair to generally say that practicing appreciative joy can be very difficult (hint: that's not a bad thing). I can say for myself, the first attempts to do this practice were hard- a lot came up for me that I did not want to admit or face. At times, it felt fake, forced, or just down right uncomfortable. We were told in AIR this was to be expected and to give ourselves time and space to give and receive love. As a song by Trevor Hall put it, “You can’t rush your healing”.
The first step of the practice was starting to become more aware of the different parts of myself. Including how my inner critic, ego, and past wounds show up in my day to day life and how I might project these parts of myself onto the world. I eased into this by observing what came through my awareness without trying to change or fix anything (oh sooo hard). Initially, I was horrified/sad/confused with what came through my awareness. Eventually, I began to loosen the grip on different thoughts, feelings, sensations, and began to observe them like a movie and from a place of curiosity. I began to identify less with the judgements and societal expectations flowing through my head. The role of the watcher become easier.
The second step was leaning into the space I created in the first step to foster appreciative joy. I did this in four main ways, which you may find useful:
1. Fully receiving kind words from someone
I would fully receive kindness by placing one palm over my heart and breathing into the compliment to allow it to soak in, to be real and true, in the here and now. If intrusive thoughts and feelings of doubt or guilt emerged, I let them co-exist as I practiced receiving this gift of connection from someone else.
Another technique I would use is savouring. I would try my best to savour the moment by fully appreciating the kind words, taking some breaths, making eye contact, and gently smiling where possible. I would also relive these moments before going to bed (further savouring).
Affirmations were also helpful, after receiving appreciation, I would often say to myself “I am worthy to be seen and heard”, or “I am worthy of appreciation in my life”.
2. Rejoicing in others success and happiness
Instagram is a playground for this one (would definitely recommend easing into it for maybe 5 minutes at a time, as it can be distressing, but will depend on where you are in your own journey). While scrolling on Instagram or other social media platforms, I would rejoice in the success and happiness of others by placing one palm on my heart and taking deep breaths and/or repeating kind words to myself such as "I see you", "You deserve to be seen and heard- I rejoice for you". I would also sometimes reach out to them to say congratulations and let them know I appreciate them, as well as take time to catch up with them where I could.
As a lot would come up for me, I would use some grounding techniques such as tuning into the five senses (see, hear, touch, smell, taste) to call me back to the present moment and focus on the practice.
In person, I've found similar techniques can be used. For example, recently, I was walking around Ottawa by myself and saw people who were enjoying the company of others, laughing and smiling, while I was walking alone. My shadows and black and white thinking kicked in, with thoughts such as "I'm alone that must mean I'm a loser", and "They are having so much fun, why can't I have that". I allowed those thoughts to be as they are, without changing or judging, just holding myself as I was, while connecting to the five senses to create some space. With this clearing, I began to reframe my experience, where I reminded myself of what I have (lots of amazing supporting individuals who see and hear me). While also telling myself some inner wisdom that the success and happiness of those around me (even strangers), is my happiness and success too- as we are all one. I began to feel deep appreciative joy as I walked alone for two more hours and witnessed many beautiful connections along the way.
3. Deep appreciation through communication
Throughout my day, I would try my best to allow others to be seen and heard as they are, appreciating the connection as it was in the moment- loosening the grip on thinking about what to say next or thinking of what solution I could provide (the nature of the ego, am I right?). Where possible, I would listen deeply by making eye contact and holding space for silence to occur. With the intention of supporting others to fully express themselves and be as they are- without anything needed to be changed or fixed.
When the ego arrived, I allowed the associated thoughts to be there and continued to offer appreciate joy in times of discomfort. There were times, where I also found it helpful to acknowledge to the other person that I was projecting my own insecurities, and needed a few moments to fully show up for them to be seen and heard. This vulnerability paved the path for more curiosity, and often deepened our connection.
4. Integrating an abundance mindset slowly, and at your own pace
So what is an abundance mindset? Rather than focussing on what you lack, it's transitioning to focus on what you do have and on the infinite possibilities life has to offer. Or as AIR puts it transitioning from how life is happening to you to how life is happening for you. This requires exploring conscious and unconscious limiting self-beliefs that have held you back from fully living your life. Depending on where you are in your journey this may not be as accessible (due to trauma and invisible and/or visible barriers), as I'll discuss to some extent below. In these cases, I would recommend working with a licensed professional and/or easing very gently into the practice.
As someone, like many others who operates from a place of scarcity, shifting my mindset towards abundance was difficult. I grew up for most of my life operating from the pain body and a place of fear to help me avoid re experiencing the deep trauma and hurt. Abundance, gratitude, love felt and was very inaccessible for me, for many, many years. I imagine this is only too relatable for others. Although, at the time, I think I needed a false sense of control, I eventually (and very slowly) realized it held me back from giving and receiving love, both to myself and to others.
Overtime, it has become easier to think about my past wounds differently. This is not to say that flashbacks, memories, grief, anger, or other difficult emotions are not real or do not come through my awareness, oh they certainly still do. What's happening now is that I allow them to co-exist with appreciative joy for my present situation and gratitude for life-long learning and healing.
This is not an easy process, yet it is a rewarding one. I was able to unearth what parts of me needed more attention and space to be as they are. This requires a lot of reflection, space, time, inner child/inner parent work, and integration through activities such as yoga, writing, art, dance, and cleaning (funny enough).
Through the eyes of abundance, I am also learning how to trust myself, my decisions, and my values. More to come on this in a future blogpost, alongside practical tips.
** Humanizing disclaimer**
Although I offer these techniques with promise and excitement to deepen the connection with ourselves and others, keep in mind we are only human- there are times when these techniques may just not serve you or will just go out the window- the appreciative joy practice is not linear, like most things in life. I invite yourself to explore and tailor tips that resonate with you based on where you're at on your journey. Practice with curiosity and give yourself lots of gentleness, patience, and kindness along the way too <3
I also could not have done this alone! Thank you so much to my partner, my friends near and far, my family, and any human I've interacted with- I've made it here with your help. Every single person I've interacted with has taught me so much about myself and the world- no matter the depth of connection.
Here are some of the resources that have helped me along my appreciative joy journey. I give so much thanks to all my teachers, even though I could not begin to cover them all in one blog post:
The Science of Well-Being, Coursera, Yale University (Dr.Laurie Santos)