Since it’s the season to bring “joy to the world,” I thought this might be an appropriate occasion to ask you to consider what brings joy to you. Somebody asked me this question recently, and I had to think for a few minutes.
I’d somehow forgotten that joy is something that’s not only important in terms of how we experience life, but it’s also a vital quality in terms of how we measure healthy emotional and mental well-being. I’m a therapist and I’d somehow forgotten that…hmm. I guess I’ve been too busy focusing on other people’s lives and haven’t stopped long enough to consider this important aspect of my life.
And so, do I actually experience joy in my life? Not the kind like “Hey, this is a great dinner,” but instead the kind where I can look back on special times and smile at the memories? The answer is “Yes,” and typically children and animals are part of my personal joy “quotient,” since both cause me to laugh and be silly in ways that I’m normally not during the everyday logistics of my life.
They also require that I stay in the present whereas, under other circumstances, I can sometimes get lost in the fog of the future, where life usually seems more complicated, and even more fearful, than it usually ever is. Children and animals teach me the importance of remaining “in the now,” and if they happen to not be available, then meditation almost always helps in that regard, albeit not in the same light-hearted, comedic, and spontaneous way, at least so far!
During moments of joy, I can almost feel the positive neurotransmitters, like serotonin, racing through my brain as they uplift me and allow me to escape from any stress or pressure that I might otherwise be feeling. But I realize there’s always room for more joy, so my task is to discover how I can create it for myself.
My job as a psychotherapist often involves helping clients discover ways of creating the lives they want for themselves, and I’ve often suggested that they identify activities that involve something we, as therapists, refer to as “flow.” The idea of “flow” is that we become so engaged in the activity that we have no connection to the temporal aspect of our day; in fact, time literally seems to stop when we’re engaged in this activity we love so much. It’s when life can be bustling all around us, yet we aren’t in the least connected to it, because we’re off in the space of “flow.”
It’s like taking a mental “time-out,” and the kind that pays untold dividends for us, but also for those who are closely involved in our lives. And, by the way, I’m not referring to an addiction to technology or any other such activity that has a negative impact on our lives, either personally or relationally.
Rather, it’s an involvement with something we feel is expanding us while at the same time, it increases feelings of satisfaction and personal reward within the depth of us. It results in a completely positive, and even joyful, experience.
Why is “flow” so important? Or joy? Well, because these experiences allow us to separate from the more stressful or frustrating aspects of daily life, no matter what phase of life you might be in. In fact, it’s during the most stressful and frustrating times of life when you’ll need to identify ways to offer yourself experiences of “flow” or joy that you’re lacking so much.
But typically, these are the times we’re somehow wired to suffer through whatever’s going on until it’s over before we begin to take care of ourselves in ways that will actually do the trick. By then, however, it may take considerably longer to recover from the impacts the stress has had on our lives because we weren’t paying enough attention to the inevitable internal scream for a “time-out.” Consequently, we usually discover that the damage of not listening to that scream resulted in even more stress. And so the cycle continues.
I’m not a believer in New Year’s resolutions – at all. In fact, I’m convinced that making them is more often than not a recipe for feeling terrible about oneself, mainly because we usually lack the commitment to maintain them for any serious length of time. Instead, I’d encourage you to begin thinking about the different ways that you might bring flow – or even more flow if you’re already engaged in an activity that results in it – into your life.
Flow often begets joy – in fact, it’s often through our experiences of flow that we ultimately discover joy. So, I’d like you to consider the importance of this for you, for your relationships, and ultimately for your emotional and mental health.
And rather than viewing this “search” for flow as optional, begin seeing it as something that’s as vital as the food, the rest, and the exercise you offer your body so it can operate at a much higher emotional and spiritual level than it has previously.
Make this a commitment to yourself, and not a resolution. Both are very different from one another; one is a form of self-love, and the other is a form of self-hate, or at the very least an obligation to attend to…until we decide we won’t, a decision that’s usually made by mid-February.
I wish you well in your (re)search, and take a moment to share with me what you discover. I’d love to hear about the path you’re paving towards your own experience of joy.