• Baraz turned Awakening Joy into a six-month class and found that participants maintained a positive attitude even after it ended (as long as they practiced the exercises; as with diets or working out, continuity is essential). Baraz was thrilled to receive messages from strangers in Europe, Africa, and New Zealand. ‘It works!’ they wrote. Apparently, you didn’t have to be there to get the joy.
    O, The Oprah Magazine

    Awakening Joy can lead each of us to live with dignity, compassion, and gracious freedom. Read these words slowly. Savor them
    and practice the exercises in this book. Use them to open your heart and transform your life. Your days on Earth will be full of blessings. —Jack Kornfield,  A Path with Heart

    I’ve personally taken the Awakening Joy program and can say this unequivocally: It’s fabulous and it works! This book, filled with moving stories and rich teachings, will give you wonderful tools to experience true happiness and well-being. It’s a gem!
    —Marci Shimoff, Happy for No Reason

    Opening to joy takes courage and intention. This book will inspire you to discover genuine happiness, and show you how.
    Drawing on perennial wisdom and accessible meditative practices, James and Shoshana offer teachings that can awaken your
    love of life.—Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance

    Awakening Joy is an important guide to transforming our everyday experience into genuine happiness. James and Shoshana’s insight, kindness, and clear and practical language make this a direct, pragmatic and valuable manual for a better life.
    —Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness

    In this beautiful and heartwarming book, James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander take us on a journey that truly awakens joy. There are stories that bring tears to our eyes and practices that transform our lives. This is a loving, wise, and compassionate testament to what is possible for each one of us. Highly recommended. —Joseph Goldstein, A Heart Full of Peace

  • I believe finding more joy in your life will also have rippling effects that can touch everyone you know and make a real difference in the world. And it begins with making the choice to be happy.


    By his own admission, Warren was a pessimist. “You’re looking at someone who tends to see the downside of things,” he warned me when he started coming to my classes. He had some reasons for feeling this way. Life had thrown him a few curveballs, among them an accident in his youth that had left him with chronic pain. Despite being pretty well committed to “the downside,” when he heard that I was creating a course called Awakening Joy, and would be teaching it in Berkeley where he lived, he was intrigued. He actually told me he wondered if changing his way of seeing things could make him happier. I wondered that myself, especially as the class got under way. Although I could see that the strategies and techniques were helping the other participants find more joy in their lives, after each session Warren would express his skepticism. I just figured, “Well, you can’t win ’em all.” Then one evening he arrived at class with a noticeably different expression on his face. I was curious to hear what had happened. We started the class with each person reporting how the practices I gave as homework had been going since our previous meeting. To my surprise and delight, when Warren’s turn came he told us that something quite unexpected seemed to be happening to him. “As I was driving into the city,” he started, “there was a whole lot of really slow traffic. I tend to get frustrated when I’m caught in that, and I started, as I often do, thinking about everything that’s wrong in our society. I was really getting on a roll.”

    We all nodded our heads, easily identifying with the scene. Warren continued, slowly speaking the words, as if amazed that they were coming out of his mouth. “Suddenly I stopped and said to myself, ‘Now wait a minute. Is there any joy here?’ I saw that I could just switch the channels.

    “I looked out and I saw the water in the San Francisco Bay. I looked up and it was a clear day. I opened my sunroof and I said to myself, ‘You know, it’s not so bad.’ I realized there is a switch that I’m starting to find that I didn’t know was there before.” He looked at us and smiled as if to say, “Go figure.” At that moment I knew that the tools in the Awakening Joy course had undeniable potential to unlock joy.

    Joy and happiness are more than just good ideas. They can be the baseline on which we live our lives.

    The purpose of this book is to show how to access that switch inside and live life with greater joy. It’s based on the program I’ve been teaching since the first course in my living room in 2003. Within a couple of years, it became an online course with people enrolled from around the world. Repeatedly I’ve seen that by cultivating certain behaviors and attitudes, participants can indeed bring greater well-being into their lives.

    STEP 5

    Speak or act with an impure mind
    And trouble will follow you
    As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

    Speak or act with a pure mind
    And happiness will follow you
    As your shadow, unshakable.
    —The Buddha, the Dhammapada

    I remember the moment as if it were yesterday, rather than a few decades ago. I picked the infant up and held him in front of me. Although I had doubted that he was actually mine, when our eyes met something in me knew it was true. It was like holding myself. As we looked at each other, his eyes innocent and filled with wonder, I could feel myself falling in love. My life with its new possibilities flashed before me. Since the age of fourteen, I had so many times imagined playing catch with my son…

    Suddenly my reverie was stopped short. I was twenty-two years old, it was the late 1960s, and I was just getting the hang of being on my own.

    This wasn’t the life I had envisioned. Terror struck. Thoughts flashed through my mind like a lightning storm as I tried to understand what had happened and how this scene came to be.

    About a year before, my neighbor’s sister, Bonnie, had started dropping by from time to time when she was in the neighborhood. Gradually our visits of friendly talk had slipped into singing together, making out, and eventually finding our way to my bed. “Free love” was the philosophy in those casual and permissive days, and “If it feels good, do it” was my credo. I didn’t stop to think about the consequences, beyond making sure that we were using birth control. When she stopped coming around at some point, I just figured that was that and got on with my life. And now here I was, holding a baby.

    A few days before this, I’d received a Christmas card with a photo of an infant boy and a simple note on the back: “Hi. My name is Anthony. I’m your son. If you want to see me, call…” Stunned and paralyzed with disbelief, I’d gone into a tailspin. For the next three days it had all seemed like a bad dream, a nightmare that I’d hoped would somehow just disappear.

    But then the doorbell rang, and there was three-month-old Anthony in his mother’s arms. I remember Bonnie saying, “Here, meet your son,” and passing him to me. Dazed and flooded with a swirl of emotions, I’d told her I needed some time to be alone with him and carried him into my bedroom.

    Those first moments of letting that beautiful baby into my heart were short-lived. Confused and immature as I was, barely able to take care of myself, the thought of taking care of someone else was overwhelming.

    Apprehension shot through my body as I imagined how my life would be turned upside down. And then there were my parents. Telling them I had a son seemed impossible, as did introducing them to his mom, who was African American. They were set on me marrying a “nice Jewish girl.” I began to panic. If I held this baby, my son, for another thirty seconds, there would be no turning back.

    I carried him back into the living room and thrust him into his mother’s arms. “I can’t do this!” I announced. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” I remember her saying something about being afraid I’d pressure her to get an abortion. My bewilderment flared into anger, and as we began to shout at each other, the tender infant in our midst started to cry.

    The spell was broken. Bonnie bundled Anthony up and stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind her.

    I collapsed onto the couch as a potent mixture of shock, relief, and shame engulfed me. Over the next few days, these emotions gave way to numbness and denial. It would be twenty-nine years before I would see my son again.

    When fear and confusion drive our actions, we cause suffering to others, often not realizing that we ourselves also suffer. Because I chose not to participate in his life, that beautiful innocent baby became the victim of my fear. His mother was denied my emotional and financial support as she faced the daunting task of being a single mom. I would not realize until years later the sadness and pain I myself carried for abandoning my son.