Joy. Yes, that feeling you want, that everybody wants, but you never want to have to think about it.
Let me be honest. When I read headlines that mention happiness or joy, I’m like “sure, but I have really important things to do like help people and run a business. That’s sweet that other people have time for Joy and Happiness.” So, this post took some time for me sit with and write. I just imagined all of you thinking “who CARES!”
But…there is a reason to care.
I’m not going to waste your time here. Joy and its variants (contentment, happiness, excitement) have a legitimate place on the spectrum of human emotion.
Before we start, let’s quickly set the stage.
This post is #10 in a series of 10: Ten Basic Emotions and their Messages.
[subscribe so you don’t miss out on the round up post of all ten basic emotions coming up. You’ll want to book mark that one and keep it around to help you out when you are in a tough spot]
The human emotional system is built as a messaging system.
Each emotion has a general message it wants to convey. Once that message is delivered (meaning you accept it that it is present and that its presence is OK) the wave of that emotion can be processed.
Sometimes there are multiple waves of the emotion. Sometimes it takes a little time for the emotion to process through the body, sometimes it is relieved right away. It just depends.
It’s important to remember that there are nuances to the system. Each emotion also has a spectrum of how helpful it can be.
Ok, let’s talk about Joy.
Joy drives us to find more of whatever is generating that “good” feeling.
Its main message is: let’s find more of that!
I don’t mean the temporary joy of eating delicious chocolate cake or buying something you really wanted. I mean the fulfilling joy that comes from being on purpose, from accomplishing something really important to you, from seeing a big smile on your loved one’s face in response to something you did or from delighting in the simple pleasures available in human life.
It is a compass directing us toward what is aligned for our highest good.
It is a sense of pleasure and well being that creates energy and generosity, making you more likely to want to contribute or share with others. Even just by smiling at people.
There is a reason we all want to feel joy and why there is so much out there about being positive or choosing to be happy: it makes life easier and more fulfilling. Plus, you get to be and show the best aspects of yourself.
While there is a choice (just like with all the emotions) in how much you will cultivate or stifle it, there is no such choice on the menu of human living to be joyful 100% of the time.
You do have emotions that are unpleasant as part of the human program. That is not bad news. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking there is something wrong with you if you are not happy ALL the time.
5 Helpful Tips for Using Joy to your Advantage:
ONE: Use it as a compass.
Because the emotion of joy helps to create a compass for living your best life, notice if there is something in particular that helped generate this feeling of joy (i.e. you are doing something you are passionate about, you have had enough time with friends or personal time, stress levels are more manageable, you have been exercising or getting consistent sleep).
Write that down for safe keeping so you know how to set yourself up for experiencing more joy and well being in the future. It’s not always obvious or what you would expect. I remember being super happy at a 6am crossfit class thinking “what is going on with me? Oh, I got enough sleep!”
You are then setting yourself up for living closer to your highest potential and to actually enjoy life.
I know. That doesn’t seem that productive or high on the list of important things. BUT, it is virtually unsustainable to live without joy or happiness. What makes all the hard work worth it? If you experience some happiness in life, you actually become more motivated and productive.
TWO: Enjoy it when Joy is here
Sometimes people (I’m included) try to cling to joy because it feels good, but that kind of ends up causing anxiety. Joy is here while it is here and then it will shift. If you can make peace with that, you will enjoy it more.
Be grateful for joy when it is here. Enjoy how pleasant and easy it can be. Like when you are on a bike ride and you are going downhill. Let the momentum take you. It is part of the sweetness of being human.
THREE: Build your ability to be aware of ALL feelings.
Unfortunately, you can’t just turn down the volume on some feelings and leave just the ones you like at normal level. There is only one volume control on human emotions. That means, if you feel them all, you get to feel joy fully too.
FOUR: Build your capacity to tolerate and process all feelings
Allowing your feelings to process as they arise (or as close as possible to when they arise) means you actually get to feel more joy. The feelings that are not as pleasant are usually indicators of something not being in alignment or a need not being met, which obviously kind of blocks joy and happiness. So, if you can process those, you get back to the nice, easy feeling of contentment and well being.
Having feelings is like doing the dishes: they are only all done for a short time. Then they start to pile up again if you don’t process them as they come in.
This doesn’t mean you should be a hot mess all the time. It just means that you process your emotions in a healthy way; feeling them enough to get the message they want to convey and letting them process through the body. You want to manage them enough so they don’t flood you.
FIVE: Check to see if there is any old program or pattern that makes you actually block joy and happiness.
Sometimes you can unknowingly block those pleasant feelings because you have had experiences in the past when it wasn’t safe to “be happy”.
As a kid, you could probably freely get to that state if you had basic needs met. But, you may have experienced someone being critical of the way you expressed your joy. Or you may have felt it was something that others wanted to take away because they didn’t feel happy themselves. Or you may have felt like someone would intrude on you in some way (like try to pry into your life or get you to do something you didn’t want to do because you were in a good mood). Or you may have felt guilty about feeling happiness because circumstances were present that meant someone “should” be serious (i. e. serious illness or a significant family hardship).
There are a lot of reasons you may block your own happiness and joy. If you find yourself having a hard time feeling happy, even under circumstances where you feel most people would be feeling happiness, maybe it is important to check if you are blocking it in any way.
Of course, you might need to ask a thoughtful, trusted friend for reflections. Sometimes you think you should be feeling joyful or happy, but are minimizing stressful or burdensome circumstances.
Keep in mind: do check if you are going through some kind of depression or anxiety.
If you find you are experiencing anxiety or depression, finding a good therapist to work with could be really helpful.