Three ways we sabotage our own joy
I’ve never been someone who could easily lean into joy. One of my favourite movies is Disney’s Inside Out because of how strongly I relate to the character Sadness.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I have never been happy. There have been many moments of happiness in my life —when I finished high school, when I celebrated my 21st birthday, when I received a scholarship to attend university.
But none of that was joy. What I have come to understand is that joy is not dependent on external forces. It is a deep and unshakable appreciation for life itself. It is a sense of the profound beauty in everyday things. It is a gratitude for the complexity and suffering of human nature.
And as it turns out, joy is the pathway to creating connection, courage, and resilience. It is one of, if not the most powerful emotion we can experience.
Yet this experience of joy felt so foreign to me, almost abstract. I couldn’t understand how it was it possible that someone could live in this reality and yet experience something so pure.
During a period of despair in my life, I knew I needed the courage and resilience that came with joy. Because joy is entirely unrelated to external factors, I knew that my lack of joy was entirely of my own making. That led me to unearth three deep-seated beliefs that were preventing me from experiencing joy.
1. “I don’t deserve joy”
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Who am I to deserve joy in this moment? Only people who are ‘truly good’ deserve to feel such a positive emotion,” you’re not alone.
These thoughts are rooted in an unhealthy sense of comparison. Comparison can be especially difficult, because it compels us to identify a winner and a loser. But in life, it’s never possible to always be the winner. For many years I have been fighting my own uphill battle trying to let go of comparing myself to others.
What liberated me from this endless struggle was when I learned that many social psychologists believe that comparison is actually integral to the human experience, and we cannot rid ourselves of it.
Instead, what we can do, is choose how our innate need to compare affects us. We can utilize comparison to inspire us or to demoralize us. I can admire you from a distance from a place of grounded confidence.
2. “I’ll be disconnected from the suffering of the world”
At times, the kind of pure joy I saw in others felt somewhat naïve. I questioned how it was possible to feel such unadulterated joy while there is so much suffering in the world. And I justified my own lack of joy to myself to be because I was awake to the pain of the world.
I looked to the people who I felt carried the weight of the world on their shoulders, and I wanted to have the strength to do that. To do so, I believed I couldn’t indulge myself in joy.
Yet this is misleading because it is in fact joy that requires the most courage because it is the most vulnerable emotion we experience.
This felt counterintuitive, but as I spent more time embracing joy, I realized that to lean into joy while staying present to the hardships of life, was much more difficult. In fact, many of the most compassionate, courageous, and inspirational leaders like the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, are also the most joyful.
3. “I need to be prepared for the worst”
One of the most common reasons I hear for not leaning into moments of joy is that it is important to stay vigilant and prepared if bad things happen. I thought that doing this would make it easier to handle difficult situations when they arise because I had considered every possible negative outcome.
As it turns out, this is actually a natural response. Because the stronger we feel a sense of joy, the more we are reminded of its fragility and that it could be taken away at any moment. So rather than leaning into joy, we replay disasters over and over in our heads.
It can be helpful to prepare ourselves if things don’t turn out the way we hope. But what’s important to remember is that we don’t need to wallow in the negativity to be prepared. It is possible to acknowledge each of our emotions for the information it provides and let go of those that do not serve us.
As I have learned to overcome the ways in which I deprived myself of joy, I find myself more grounded and content. I am beginning to recognize the importance of my own joy in allowing me to feel a greater sense of connection to others and to the world.
And at the same time, the connection brings a new sense of vulnerability. I am more sensitive and get more hurt. I care more. I cry more. I love more.
What stands out is that I am not as afraid. I am not as afraid to lean into the vulnerability and the difficult moments that are necessary to live into my values. I live a fuller life.
“Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.”
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Through it all, I have learned that despite what I thought, joy is not the absence of suffering. In fact, it is the acknowledgement of suffering that is necessary for us to attain an enduring sense of joy. And that requires the most courage of all.