If you’re looking for joy, there’s a journey you can choose to take. You may think that joy is your last stop but, on this train ride you’ll find joy many times before you arrive at your final destination. The beautiful irony is that you will recognize every place you visit along that journey. So, if you’re wondering where to find joy, try the surprising places you’re about to rediscover.
We like to say that “joy is a choice,” but that’s not very empathetic of us if our objective is comfort. It’s more accurate to say that “joy is a journey,” since, like all of our feelings and emotions, joy comes and goes, and each visit lasts for some random time that’s never long and happy enough.
So that we’re on the same page, would you accept the “joy as a journey” paradigm as you read this? If so, welcome aboard.
Joy is a Trip
The joy ride – or more honestly, the ride of your life – is full of emotions. Some we like; some we don’t. They all serve a purpose: feel hungry and eat to feel not hungry. (Notice that joy isn’t the opposite of hunger, but joy is easier when we’re not hungry.) Feel angry with someone and talk with that person until the anger dissipates. This is the emotional substance of your life. As bad as it can feel, it still includes joy.
The overwhelmingness of some parts of our lives can bury joy deep. Laughing at a funny movie about a dysfunctional family, for example, can be easier than finding any mirth in the dysfunctions of one’s own. That’s how it’s supposed to be. You may ultimately find a joy spark even in the toughest family situations, but you don’t have to go there…yet.
Trust the ride.
I love rollercoasters. There’s trust built into riding a worthy rollercoaster. I hope it scares and thrills me, makes me laugh, scream, close my eyes, spins me upside down, gets me weightless. And I trust that, at the end, I will be delivered safely back to terra firma where the rules of gravity will have their normal, helpful effect on me.
The ride of our lives can be rollercoaster-ish at times. It needs to be so that we learn street smarts – survival skills for the emotional jungle. That jungle is where fear lives, along with anger, sadness, and joy. Everything you have learned right up until now has prepared you to take this journey. You’re ready.
Don’t be disappointed if the journey includes long stretches of boredom. Haven’t we worked hard to limit the emotional rollercoastering in our lives? Well, that’s about to change.
Let’s Find Some Joy
Remember that this is a journey. We want to move through the landscape of your life to find joy. Your journey can proceed backward in time through your memory (a particularly happy celebration, for instance), or your journey can happen in the present, in real time and in real life, such as anticipating your next vacation.
A joyous memory is just as much a part of the journey as the meme that made you laugh just now.
Yeah. Thought you’d ask: the other feelings are part of it, too. All of them: anger, fear, sadness. Your life needs them all, and this is your life, and your journey through it to joy. So we’d better deal with anger, fear, and sadness since they can definitely mess up your joy.
A Practice to Prepare for Joy
Begin by finding a safe, undisturbed place where you feel comfortable.
- Start your practice with a memory – one that was joyless. Got it?
- Recall the emotions in that memory, whatever they may have been. Do this without judgment; just notice all the emotions.
- Choose one of those emotions. Bravely let that emotion play in your internal theatre. Do you see the event? Remember the triggers? As it plays, stay with the feeling(s) for as long as you can, then stop. I find that it can help to use music in this step. The best music is music you love that connects you deeply with the feelings in that specific memory. More about that here.
- Notice how you feel. Have the feelings exhausted themselves? Do you feel some powerful residual emotion connected to them? Are you as energized now as you were at the start of the practice?
If you find yourself at an emotionally neutral place about the feelings you have remembered, your work is complete. For example, a sad event will still be sad, but you may find it has loosened its relentless grip on you. The process of grief after losing a loved one works in this way, too: there’s no fixed timeframe and the intensity of the grief eventually gives way to a more pleasant melancholy – a more neutral experience of what began as all-consuming grief.
You may find that you must repeat this practice using the same memory to lessen the emotional energy it holds for you. There are self-care modalities that can assist you. Self-care examples I love include Thought Field Therapy (TFT) and drumming; one of the most effective client/therapist tools I know is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.
Whether self-administered or offered in a therapeutic relationship, these kinds of tools work the entire physical/mental/emotional/spiritual being to bring the specific, triggered, overwhelming feelings we remember (and don’t want) down to neutral. Please use these resources responsibly. They will reward you by keeping you safe on your journey.
Mostly, our feelings wash over us as we do our best to swim through them. But in those moments where we’re just pleasantly aware, with no emotions pulling us, we finally get to have that choice: to choose joy. You remember: everyone else talks about it as if they could just make it any time, as angry, scared, or overcome with sadness as they are? Yeah: that choice.
Much better to transition from emotionally activated to emotionally neutral – to go from hungry to not hungry – before choosing joy. Yes, there will always be some kind of small emotional energy, just like hunger is always present to some degree. As you practice, you will learn to recognize your own emotional neutral. For most of us, the visual representation of emotional neutral is somewhere in the top third of the nearby wheel.
That place of neutral feeling – none of the primary emotions are activated – is magical because that’s where we can, finally, choose joy.
Or any feeling, actually.
But seriously, who wouldn’t choose joy?
Are you beginning to see how this works?
If so, have you noticed that every emotional memory you have is a place where joy can be found? Your family is probably full of such places…I know mine is. Over time, you can find emotional memories connected to your work life, too, or to friends. On this journey, every memory you’d rather forget is a place where you can find happiness and represents an opportunity for you to practice. What do you practice? You practice preparing for joy.
Looking forward, do you see how the practice of preparing for joy can offer you that emotional neutral magical choice for events and thoughts that will happen in your future? Do you see how that improves your odds for a joyous outcome?
If so, Godspeed! Teach others how to do this. The world needs more joy, wouldn’t you agree? If the journey for joy isn’t working, however, for whatever reason, please reach out for questions, coaching, and encouragement. We are here for you.
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