James Baraz book Awakening Joy

Awakening JOY – Part 1

By on January 14, 2018

This is Part 1 of a 10-part series on the book Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness, by James Baraz.

Some friends and I are going through James Baraz’s book Awakening Joy.  We are going to read a chapter a month, for ten months, so we’ll bringing more joy into our lives for most of the year!

Before I talk about the first chapter, let me back up a little.  Joy is a topic I have been thinking about for many years!  I was really involved in the Theravadan Buddhist community for about 15 years.  I gained so much from this community and these teachings, I made life-long friends, I raised my kids in this tradition, but… sometimes I felt like a fish out of water.  I felt like something was missing, something just wasn’t right.  After a lot of contemplation, discussion, soul searching, and angst, I came to the conclusion that what was missing in my spiritual practice was joy.

In the Buddhist teachings there are “Seven Factors of Awakening” (apparently the Buddha loved making lists!) These are qualities of mind that can be cultivated during meditation, and even in daily life.  Some of the factors are calming (tranquility, concentration, and equanimity) and some of the factors are energizing (investigation, effort, and joy.)  That’s right.  JOY is one of the factors of awakening taught by the Buddha.  And yet, it seemed to be completely skipped over in the community I was part of! The expressions of the calming factors were all around. When you think of meditation, or going to a meditation center, don’t you think of “tranquility”?  Where were the expressions of joy?

When I asked one of my teachers about it, she said she felt very joyful, on the inside.  I concluded that different people and different communities have different expressions of joy, and my own just wasn’t a good match for my community.  My expression of joy is BIG, and loud, and vibrant, and colorful.  My mom belonged to a gospel church for a few years when I was a kid and wow, gospel music! That is an expression of spiritual joy that I can get with!  Once I realized this I turned more towards my dance and music communities, which felt like a better match.

So I have been on my own search for joy for probably 10 years, or maybe my whole life! I’ve been wanting to write a post about it for a while.  I’m not sure yet whether I’ll gain anything new from this book, but it’s fun to discuss the topic with friends, and to focus on it in a more structured way. Bill Gates said, “Even if you never read anything in this genre, this book is one you should try.” Bill Gates??? That’s quite an endorsement!

The first chapter in the book is “Inclining the Mind Toward Joy.” This is setting an intention.  As with any change, the first step is making a decision to do so!  Choosing a phrase and stating it, “I want more joy in my life!” Can we admit that?  Can we imagine that? Can we request that? Some people have a hard time with this, and James Baraz suggests choosing a phrase that feels right, maybe it’s something more modest like, “May I have more well-being in my life.” In our first group we each chose our phrases and shared them with each other, and set the intention.  I led the group in a guided visualization in which we remembered a time or event where we were truly happy and joyful, recalling all the details: what did it feel like in our bodies, what were the sounds, tastes, and smells that went with this memory?  And could we imagine bringing this feeling of happiness and joy into our lives more often?

Some of us shared our memories.  Mine is being on the dance floor.  Music blasting with the bass so strong I can feel it vibrating through my entire body.  Dancing so full-out that I break a sweat. Being surrounded by my diverse group of friends, in a group that truly feels like a community.  That’s my joyful place. One of them, anyway :)

sweaty joy on the dance floor

sweaty joy on the dance floor

Do you want to live a more joyful life? What is your phrase as you set that intention?


  1. Reply


    January 14, 2018

    Thanks for this! It makes me think of the “Do what makes you come alive” quote. I think it’s “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” It’s been my favorite quote for years, but honestly I still get caught up in what I think the world needs. It can completely drain one’s ability to respond with life. Joy is a great intention!!!

    • Reply


      January 16, 2018

      That’s a great quote!! Maybe the world needs both. We definitely need to focus on what feels joyful, alive, and nourishing. But I also think there is a place for responding to what the world needs.


Cambridge, MA

From nine to five, I am a Senior Program Officer at a small non-profit working in International Public Health. In the rest of my hours I am a yoga and meditation teacher, a health enthusiast, an aspiring vegan, an amateur photographer, and most importantly, a mother of two.

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