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The Secret to Joy

By Bonnie Starr Mandell-Rice


Not long ago a friend asked me how it is that I seem to have and experience so much joy in my life. It is true that I am blessed to experience much joy and so I thought I would share my “secret” with you, my readers. My secret is, quite simply, to appreciate what is right there in the moment, right there in front of you. Sing the praises of what (who) is there and you are singing a hymn of praise to the Beloved who resides within each of us. The wonder of it is that the more you appreciate people and things, the more you find in them to appreciate!


Nature, with its abundant beauty in myriad forms, provides endless opportunities for us to sing praises. I turn my head as I type to look out my window, and there blooming gaily in this day’s cool and overcast weather, are yellow, purple, pink, yellow and white flowers the names of most of which I have forgotten. The flowers don’t mind that I don’t call them by the name we humans assigned to them. When I look on them and tell them (even now without words, just thoughts) how beautiful they are and how grateful I am for their existence, I can feel them “stand up” taller and beam at me in gratitude and love. (Flowers, trees and other plants are wonderful this way. They do respond and, after a while, you too will feel their glowing response to your appreciation.) My heart expands and fills with joy. The joy comes from within me, awakened by my appreciation of the flowers.


I drop my gaze to the floor where one of my Chinese pugs, Taipei, lies sleeping. Taipei can be a most annoying little dog when she wants to be. She loves to lick, lick, lick and to bark – boy can she bark - when another dog wanders past our yard! Yet as she lies there, sleeping peacefully, I can only think about how much love and joy she has brought to our family – even with the licking and the barking. They do make for funny stories, after all. She has told me that these behaviors are her way of releasing excess energy (which she apparently has despite our three mile race walks every morning) – a far better choice in my book than her eating my furniture (as a lovely lab I know did when he was young). Sitting here, just appreciating for her for who she is, without demanding that she be different than she is, my heart expands again and the love and joy that is in me flows toward her.


Then I shift my gaze again to the photos that sit beside my computer – photos of my wonderful husband and two amazing daughters. (I rarely speak or write of any of them without a glowing adjective to express my appreciation for who them.) Oh, my heart is about to burst with my love for them and the joy I feel in having them in my life! I know I am truly blessed in the husband and daughters I have. I often think of the line from one of the songs in The Sound of Music: “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could. So somewhere in my youth and childhood, I must have done something good.” There is so much to appreciate in each of them – as there is in every single one of us. We simply have to remember to look, to notice, and to appreciate the goodness that we find. When we do that we discover that we are all blessed by the people in our lives, because we are the blessing and in blessing another we bless ourselves.


I understand that for those of you who experience little joy in your life or who are facing difficult situations, this idea of appreciating everyone and everything may sound naïve at best and impossible at worst. I understand that some of you may have spouses, children, parents or co-workers who you find to be difficult. Yet there is something to appreciate in everyone, and doing so begins simply with a decision – the decision to appreciate things, to find something in everyone and everything to appreciate. When you focus on the difficulties, you tend to get more difficulties, because energy flows where our attention goes. For the same reason, when you focus on the positive, more good starts showing up.


So often we get caught up in the day to day busy-ness of living and do not take a moment to reflect on the beauty, the goodness, the abundance that is right here, where we are. Taking that moment can alter your entire day, your relationships, your life. Stop, right now, and look around you as I just did. On what does your gaze fall? Is it a photograph of a loved one? Remind yourself, if you need reminding, of all that you love in him or her – his smile, the way she tosses her hair, how he cooks dinner for you when you work late, how she cares for your children, how he makes you laugh, how she gets so mad when she sees an injustice, _________________. You fill in the blank for yourself. There are endless things to love and appreciate in each other.


Now turn your head some more. On what does your gaze fall next? Perhaps, like me, it is on an open window with a view of a garden or the mountains, or maybe you are at work and you look out upon another skyscraper. What is there that you can appreciate? The beauty of the flowers blooming, the majesty of the mountains, the awesome feat of engineering that the building represents. Does your gaze fall upon an object on the table in front of you? What drew you to purchase it? Admire the shape, the color, texture. Let your mind open to the wonder of what is before you.


When you are done, notice how you feel. For me the feelings are serenity and joy. The pausing and noticing quiets the mind and brings serenity. The appreciation brings joy. After awhile of practicing in this way, begin to do it in the moment with whomever or whatever is with you.


When you are with someone, think to yourself of all that you appreciate about them. (It helps if you begin doing this when you are not feeling annoyed or angry at them!) Notice how you feel as you do this – is there a softening? I often feel like I am melting. You might also notice a change – a softening perhaps, maybe evidenced by a smile or a quizzical look - in them. That is because all feelings are vibrations. These vibrations can be felt by others, which is why if someone around you is out of sorts, you may find yourself feeling out of sorts as well, and if someone is happy, you may find yourself feeling brightening.


When you are more practiced at appreciation, then remember to appreciate even when you are annoyed or angry with a loved one - the husband who didn’t take out the trash, the child who didn’t clean his room, the wife who didn’t pick up your shirts from the cleaners, the mother who still insists on treating you as a child or showing favoritism to a sibling, – STOP for a moment. Breathe. Remember – this is a person whom I love. What is it that I love in him or her? Focus on that for a moment.


Then you can expand your practice to the people you don’t already love – the critical boss, the grumpy store clerk, or the driver who cuts you off. If you can think of no other reason to appreciate them, then appreciate them for giving you a new challenge for finding things to appreciate!


As you begin to find things to appreciate even in the difficult people and circumstances of your life, you will feel joy stealing into your heart and then you will notice that those people and circumstances are not so difficult anymore. They will have caught the “good vibration” you are sending out when you appreciate them – and they will send it back to you or pay it forward, in an endless circle of appreciation.


So if you want joy to flow in you and as you, remember to stop, notice and APPRECIATE!


COPYRIGHT: @ Bonnie Starr Mandell-Rice 2009. This article may be reprinted provided that the complete article and this copyright information are included. This article will be archived at