Life gifts us with many wonderful happenings and magical ordinary moments, bringing us pure heartfelt joy and happiness. Only that when we are too busy, too distracted or simply have our priorities messed up, we might fully miss out these moments and positive feelings. Few years ago, in the midst of busy-overwhelmed-distracted season of my life, I embarked on a journey to increase my self-awareness and mindfulness. And choosing more joy has been natural part of it.
What Is Joy?
While opinions and perspectives regarding the difference between joy and happiness diverge, joy is approached more as an inner feeling and happiness is seen as an outward expression. Happiness tends to be externally triggered, based on things, places, other people, while joy is more internal, rising from making peace with who you are and how you are (1).
I very much happen to enjoy the way David Brooks speaks of joy and happiness in one of his articles. He says that happiness tends to involve a victory for the self, often coming from an accomplishment, while joy involves the transcendence of self, being “the present that life gives you as you give away your gifts”(2). Joy is something bigger and deeper, involving authenticity and transparency (with yourself and others), often rising from affectionate connections.
While personal accomplishments and celebrating our victories is a great source of happiness and an important part of our life, a lot of meaning and beauty can be found, in between these pursuits, in the mundane. As Dr. Brené Browns puts it “Joy comes to us in moments—ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.” (3). With years passing, the value and appreciation for these ordinary moments grow. We start knowing ourselves better, we start enjoying ourselves and our journey more, and we have the wisdom to recognize what is really important to us in life.
Why Feeling Joy Matters?
Joy is our natural state. Just look at babies starting to discover the world – they are smiling and excited about everything happening around. And well, once we were babies too, so we do know that joy is there, under all the learnt layers of fears, obstacles, limitations, expectations. What we should also know is that whenever desired, this joy can become available to us again.
Joy is healthy. While on an emotional level joy can be experienced in many ways – euphorically, tearfully, as a deep contentment, on a scientific level, joy is felt in our neurotransmitters, these little chemical “messenger” cells responsible for processes and feelings in almost every aspect of the body. The benefits of increasing joy include healthier lifestyle and longevity, boost to immune system and reduction in stress and pain. (4)
Joy brings more joy. While I strongly believe in the “energy flows where attention goes” principle, even if you disagree, I hope You do believe that choosing joy when possible will make the good vibes and feelings grow. Joy, happiness, laughter is usually contagious. Choosing to feel good and to enjoy whatever situation in hand will open up more opportunities for feeling joyful.
Are You Sabotaging Your Joy?
We choose joy and pursue happiness. While happiness is related to external circumstances then joy is something that can always be present. Yet sometimes we choose not to choose joy? Why is that?
The biggest obstacle for joy is related to one’s true nature. Self-awareness and self-acceptance are important keywords here. If you have not taken time to get to know yourself or if you are not accepting who you are on the deepest level, then you most definitely might be pushing away opportunities of joy. Taking time to listen to your inner wisdom can be the game-changer.
You might let external expectations and fears guide you. Sometimes you might just say no to experiences and opportunities only because you let the expectations and opinion of others or your own (often irrational) fears lead you. You might focus on external circumstances more than internal. You might get stuck with limiting beliefs or telling yourself something like:
“I will be happy when xxx (some accomplishment/objective/achievement)” or “I will make time for xxx (something that you enjoy) when xxx”.
Just make sure to be aware of the “hedonic adaptation” effect on postponing your enjoyment to the future moment! We have the capacity to adapt very fast to the long-waited victories and new positive states, thus enjoying the process is the way to go!
And sometimes you just choose the answer “no” instead of “yes” out of inconvenience, sense of urgency or habit of comfort. You might decline an invitation for a walk in the nature or a swim in the river, you might say no to taking time to sit down with a book or even prioritize laundry folding over playing with your kids. Always choosing “urgent, not important” is a great way to sabotage yourself. At least this is how “sabotaging joy” often looks life for me!
And then there is vulnerability. Dr. Brené Brown says that “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience. And if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.” According to Dr. Brown dress rehearsing tragedy means starting to imagine that something bad is about to happen, even if everything is okay. (5) However, there is a solution, according to Dr. Brown´s research, the best way to go about it is to substitute the fear of disasters with gratitude!
Do you know what Dr. Brené Brown is speaking about? Can you relate to it? Oh, this one hits close to home for me. After few challenging events in childhood, I did develop the habit of expecting something bad to happen when everything seemed to be going well. Avoiding to feel happy and celebrating, just not to “jinx” it, was a common silent practice of mine. Fortunately, through continuous self-development and thanks to a row of positive happening in my early adulthood I learnt to trust the journey and to live in the possibility of abundance of joy and happiness. Said all that, of course I am still work-in-progress when it comes to fully celebrating and savoring all the positives in life… Aren’t we all?
How Can You Increase Your Joy?
1) Increasing joy is absolutely possible for everyone who is ready to put some conscious effort in it. The best starting point is to take some time to understand who you are and what is it that makes you happy and brings your joy. You can start by finding answers to these questions:
What does joy look like for you?
What do you enjoy doing?
When do you feel the happiest?
When do you feel in flow?
What did you love as a kid?
Once you have found your answers, think about ways how to increase these experiences/moments in your life, how to incorporate more of what you enjoy into your reality.
2) Gain conscious about your vulnerability related to joy. Are you cutting your joy to avoid bad things happening around the corner? Following the work of Dr. Brené Brown, why not to transform your fear of disasters into gratitude. Enjoy the good times and good things. Cultivate the mindset of abundance instead of scarcity. Create a wave of contagious energy through focusing on what you can “appreciate, embrace and celebrate” (6).
3) Make an effort to find joy in the ordinary. Practice mindfulness. Savor the moment. Let go of perfectionism, obsession with details and expectations to open yourself up for more moments of joy. Create yourself little joy-boosting daily routines:
- Keep a (gratitude) journal;
- Focus on the little positive things in life (cup of coffee, blooming flowers, blue skies, hugs, chocolate);
- Engage purposefully in energy & joy-boosting activities (entertainment, exercise, extra rest, meditation, connecting with nature etc).
4) Say “YES” to life. We always hear about the need to set boundaries and to know how and when to say “NO”. Much less is spoken about the how to say more times “YES” to life. Do not let your usual fears, self-doubts and need for perfectionism to stop you from experiences and growing. While there is always some pain and struggle in life, when possible choose to “say “yes” to who you are and how you’re being asked to grow by the world and the people around you” (7).
5) Nurture relationships – with your partner, your family and friends. Affectionate connections are great source of joy! You should never take for granted your close relationships, instead invest some conscious effort in them and do not forget to sprinkle them with a bit of love too whenever possible. And let´s be honest here, in today’s distracted world, being present and giving 100% of attention to the person in front of you, is a powerful way of connecting.
In case you never gave a thought to your “relationship with joy“, then do not worry it is never too late to start one. Once becoming more conscious about it, life might open up for you differently. You can design your days, and your life, choosing joy. You can use joy as your compass for living your life.
While choosing joy has not been over the last decade the most natural thing to do for my too-hardworking-entrepreneurial-self, I have become so much more conscious and better about it. Of course, Covid19 forced us all for a little pause, giving us time to reevaluate and redesign our life and dreams. I have been consciously savoring the ordinary moments of my life, by letting them last longer..
This last weekend I chose joy when prolonging my morning coffee on the porch listening to birds singing. I chose joy when watched my twins playing (and covering themselves with earth and sand) in the garden and when joining them, more than once, simply to roll together on the carpet, just smiling to each other and savoring the moment. I chose joy when during little shopping trip with my daughters instead my usual speech of “hurry up” and “choose something else” I watched them pick up (and change mind too many times) what they liked.
Oh these ordinary moments of life… they are so precious.
Being present and choosing joy in the moment most definitely makes one feel fully awaken to life!
What does joy look like for you? What would be possible for you if today you chose “joy” as your compass?
* In case you would love to find out how I as a Life Coach can help you with cultivating your joy, please do not hesitate to contact me [email protected]
1) Joy vs Happiness (www.psychologies.co.uk)