Joy is an odd concept to define. It’s often used synonymously with happiness, but that word misses the mark. Instead, I want to suggest that joy should be seen as an action rather than an emotion. In this way, it’s not a product of our circumstances but something that stands apart from them. Joy is our deliberate response, come what may. As kids, my parents always used to say to us, “you choose your attitude.” My younger self hated that. If my sister took my toy or my brother wouldn’t let me in his room, I should be justified in getting upset, right? Well, it’s a two part answer.
Part one: pretending you’re feeling something that you’re not won’t help the situation. So denying anger, frustration, sadness (whatever the case may be) is not the solution. Instead, it’s important to acknowledge your initial emotion. Part two of the answer, however, is this: acknowledging our feelings doesn’t give us license to wallow in them. So take the time you need to look negativity in the face then brace yourself for moving forward.
Now, I can’t pretend there’s a perfect formula for practicing joy. Each person may have a slightly different perception. What I do know is that it’s a habit. It requires effort and work but the results are worth it. If you’re looking for a place to start, count your blessings. Many times in my life I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture because I was so focused on one minuscule point. As I pulled back and examined my health, family, friends, or food on the table, that picture came back into focus.
I want to note, however, that when counting my blessings, I try to steer clear of the ‘it could be worse’ mentality. Meaning, I’m not finding other negative things and then comparing them to my own life. That meets only the bare minimum requirement for practicing joy. Consider your blessings individually, standing on their own worth.
If we allow circumstances to define our disposition, we’ll be tossed like teeny sailboats in the typhoon of life. Joy becomes our anchor. Exercising joy as our deliberate response to minor, everyday situations will gradually instill that virtue as part of our being. When greater challenges come our way, we’ll be equipped with its soul-strengthening balance.
What are some ways you work to cultivate joy in your life?