Is joy overrated?

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Our lives so often consist of a series of tasks, obligations, deadlines, and responsibilities, that all we can do is go from one task to another, checking off the accomplishments on the perpetual to-do list. Between that and the current world environment, is it any wonder that we experience stress and weariness as we go about our daily routines? Most of us don’t take the time or make the effort to find joy. Some consider joy frivolous and unnecessary, believing that responsible adults just need to push through and get things done. We are even taught that hardships and suffering build character, make us stronger, and ultimately earn us a place in heaven.

But is that true? Is our ability to produce, accomplish, and push through life more valuable than our sense of joy? The answer is no. Believe it or not, our life is not supposed to be about suffering. That is an idea that was sold to us by those whom it benefited because suffering creates fear, and fear combined with a promise of salvation can lead to both obedience and unceasing hard work. In reality, joy is not only our birthright, it is also a more sustainable and productive way of being. While stress, fear, and anxiety lower our immune system, reduce our energy, and attract into our lives the experiences that resonate with lower-frequency emotions (fear, anger, etc.), joy does the opposite. It strengthens our immune system, increases our life energy, and brings us experiences that resonate with higher-frequency emotions (excitement, love, etc.). In fact, the more joy we can experience, the further we can go in life.

You may be wondering how one could find joy in this crazy, stressful, upside-down world. Well, you find it in the tiniest moments and experiences in your life, and when you can, you build toward a bigger presence of joy. In her book The Joy of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo talks about decluttering our personal spaces. Since things hold energy, when we surround ourselves with cluttered spaces and unused items, the energy around us can become stale and unpleasant. Interestingly enough, when directing people to sort through old socks, Marie doesn’t tell them to decide if the socks might be useful in the future; she invites them to ask themselves if those socks bring them joy. Her goal in working with any space is not to impose structure, but to help it elicit joy.

Stress and anxiety can pull us under even without our awareness, but we can make joy quite intentional. Become aware of the little moments of enjoyment even in the middle of a stressful day. Catch yourself smiling at the sunshine on your face or giggling at the coziness of a warm blanket on a cool night. Intentionally select activities that can increase your joy – spend a few minutes playing with your animal companions, go for a walk, read a book, play a game, or connect with a friend. Simply stop and ask yourself what can I do right now to increase my joy? Then allow yourself the time to do it.

Joy is not a frivolity. It is a powerful engine of transformation that allows us to shift our internal state regardless of external circumstances. It is like tuning the radio to a different station. Once you change the station (i.e., internal state), you will tune into a whole new broadcast (i.e., external reality). So become intentional and choose joy whenever you can. The more joy we can generate individually, the greater our chances of shifting all of humanity out of despair and towards hope. And I think we could all use some of that right now.

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