Happiness is fleeting, and joy is everlasting. That’s the difference, in case you were wondering :-)

Happiness is what we feel when something goes well in our lives. Joy is the inner peace and bliss that is unshakable by circumstance of experience. Joy comes from knowing that you are a spiritual being that happens to be in a really complex physical experience… come what may.

Anxiety, fear, depression, stress and a feeling of hopelessness or helplessness can destroy your sense of joy. In a society that insists we need “more,” we end up overwhelmed, overworked and maxed out in debt. We WANT to take care of ourselves, but… we WANT to have happy relationships, but… we WANT to have some private “me” time but… there always seems to be “but” getting in the way.

Here’s a practical guide to increasing – or rather, returning to – the joy that is your true nature. These tips are easy and you can do them no matter how challenging your situation. And yes, your happiness will increase too!

Manage your thoughts to increase your joy!To effectively face the challenges of life, you need a toolbox, something you can carry with you all the time, and turn to when you need to increase your joy. The following list covers the BASICS you should have in your toolbox. You can add to it, as you like, anything that works for you. Some of these tools are physical, some intellectual, some emotional and some spiritual. You’ll find that you’ll turn to certain tools most of the time (because they work, and you’re used to them) but challenge yourself to branch out and use tools you may not have considered before. Each of these tools helps you let go of the thoughts that cause you stress and diminish your joy.

These tools center around thought management. It’s not true that you are at the mercy of your thoughts, if you know how to manage them. Every day, we think somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts. Many of those thoughts are repeated from yesterday and the day before, meaning you’ve got some very entrenched thought habits, usually focused on what’s wrong in your life. And of those repeated thoughts, it’s estimated that most are negative!

When you use your tools to manage your thoughts, you will see a dramatic increase in joy, well-being, inner peace, positive energy, hope, happiness, determination and confidence.

1. Breathe. Most of the time, we don’t pay attention to this basic bodily function, but it is one of the most effective calming exercises in your toolbox. Notice your breath when you’re stressed: it’s shallow and rapid, and often erratic. On a physical level, this is inefficient breathing, so your brain and organs are not getting the amount of oxygen needed for optimal functioning (you’re already at a disadvantage).

Here are two breathing exercises that you can use anytime you feel your emotions or stress getting out of control. As you get yourself under control, you have the ability to CHOOSE thoughts and emotions that feel better but result in better choices and therefore better results… and more joy.

a.) Deep breathing. Deliberately making your breathing to become deeper and slower creates a sense of mental and emotional calm. The way to slow and deepen your breathing, focus on a very deep, prolonged exhale. Let ALL the air out of your lungs and mentally, along with this air, release tension in your mind and body; then, relax and allow the lungs to fill naturally; and repeat with a long, deep exhale. If you focus on drawing air into your lungs, you automatically tense up. So instead, focus on making the exhale as deep as you can. The body will take care of the inhale!

b.) Count your breaths. This is a great exercise to focus your mind on something other than your problem. First, begin by counting the inhale as “one” and the exhale as “two.” Focus on this, because after a few counts, it becomes something your mind has done a million times already and because counting is automatic for you, your mind will wander. If it does, STOP the thought and return your focus to counting – beginning at “one” again. After you have mastered counting to 10, increase the difficulty by counting one full breath (inhale + exhale) s “one” and again count to 10. This is not a simple exercise to do!

2. Take care of yourself. If you aren’t showing yourself love by exercising every day, eating only the healthiest foods, getting enough sleep, stimulating your mind, having an active social life, pursuing interests and passions, and relieving stress in healthy ways… you spend a lot of time on “damage control” that diminishes your sense of joy.

3. Meditate. There’s nothing more peaceful than a completely still, silent mind. That means no mental chatter at all, only… silence. With practice, you can achieve this, starting with tiny little moments of silence that you will eventually connect into long, blissful stretches. And, the joy you feel when you meditate on love, is indescribably beautiful. Try this every day: send out love to every person you know. Everyone – whether you love them, like them, dislike them, whether they’ve hurt you, ignored you, rejected you… send love to the ones you’ve rejected or hurt… do not leave anyone out. As you do this, your sense of separation will evaporate and you’ll be enveloped in a joy that cannot exist when you feel alone!

4. Think about, and DO, what you love to do. Even if you have a crazy busy schedule, surely you can schedule in 15-30 minutes to do what makes your soul sing? Of course you can. Do it, for yourself! Creating something – expressing yourself – brings immense joy!

5. Help others. In addition to spiritually sending love, demonstrate your love by doing kind things for people. Volunteer, teach, help without being asked, smile, hug, cheer up, touch, listen to, donate to, etc… (there are so many ways to help!) you uplift both the receiver and the giver (you).

Creating something is a joyful experience.6. Listen to music. You know the compositions that resonate with you and make you feel good inside. Play them often. If you “resonate” with a piece of music, that you are vibrationally aligned with it, and that’s why it feels good to you.

7. Tell a beautiful new story. Most of us tell self-stories (to others and ourselves) that are all about pain and struggles. That does not make for a joyful monologue or conversation! And who’s to say that you must focus on what you don’t like? Start thinking and talking about what you love, enjoy or appreciate, you will start to bring more of these things into your life, and even in the process of thinking about them, you will feel more joyful.

8. Practice gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal may be the single most effective way to infuse your life with joy. How can you complain about problems when you are grateful for the challenges that make you stronger? How can you bemoan your relationships when you are grateful for the growth and self-awareness that have made you into a more loving and compassionate person? How can you rant against your own mistakes when they have been such powerful teachers? In this way, you stop accentuating the negative and start focusing on the positive.

9. Forgive. “When you forgive yourself, you free yourself from memories which aren’t serving you anymore.” – Hina Hashmi.  When you forgive others, you release yourself from the emotional burden that you have been carrying around. Forgiveness releases the negative emotions of shame, guilt, resentment, anger and hurt.

10. Smile and laugh more. You simply cannot feel bad if you are smiling and laughing. Put a smile on your face, hold it… hold it… and before you know it, you’re laughing. There truly is no better medicine!

These tips will significantly raise your level of joy. Start now, and live joyfully!