Joy As A Barometer – Are You Getting Enough Joy In Your Life?
Whenever I get a new client who tells me that they are depressed, unhappy or lost in life, I always ask within the first couple of sessions if they have any joy? And if so what where does that joy come from? Normally they answer, “No,” and I feel that this answer reflects a good deal of the problem.
Joy can be like a barometer in a person’s life. I often say that one ounce of joy is worth a ton of pain. Joy is explosive stuff. It smashes through negativity like nitro-glycerine. However bad things are, if we can experience some moments of joy it can be like a fuel that keeps us going and makes life worthwhile.
It is important to clarify what joy is and how it differs from happiness, pleasure and contentment. Pleasure is fleeting and can leave us feeling either full or empty after it is experienced. Without any pleasure, life would be dull indeed; but like eating sweets or spending money, no amount of it will make you happy in the end. Happiness can again be fleeting. It is more sustained than pleasure and deeper for sure, but it could be here one hour and gone the next. One may have a relaxing day on the beach in the sunshine, for instance, and then one’s best friend may die the next. Alas, this is the common flow of life.
Contentment isn’t felt quite so keenly as happiness and there is not quite the same buzz, but it is longer lasting and deeper. It is a general feeling that life is good and we typically tend to feel more positive than negative for a longer stretch of time. You cannot be content one day and not the next, though it is possible that your levels of contentment can go gradually up and down with the events and feelings brought about by life. For this reason, many philosophers and psychologists argue that it is better, and more realistically sustainable, to be content than to be happy.
Joy is something different. You know it if you’ve had it. It feels a little bit like a lightning bolt or a heightened awareness of something marvellous. It happens in those moments when we feel that life is fantastic and it is good to be alive. It’s a feeling that seems to come from within but also seems to connect with what is outside of us on a very profound level. Richard Wagner commented that, “Joy is not in things; it is in us.” Unlike pleasure which seems to come from something outside of us, joy seems to spring up from inside.
Joy can last anywhere from a few minutes to maybe a whole day. It tends not to last much longer than that in one go, though there may be lucky times when it visits frequently. Typically, these feelings arise when one is with nature, perhaps looking at a sunset or walking. Joyous feelings can also be brought on by being in love and making love with someone we love, when again the sense of connection can be deep and powerful. Sex is normally pleasurable, but when it is joyous it can be transcendent. Some people feel it with moments of sporting success or within the arts. Being with a friend and finding yourself suddenly at one with their thoughts can also bring feelings of joy. A hobby can bring moments of it, too, and those who have religious faith will also describe moments that their faith has brought them joy. It is well said that giving can be joyous, joy certainly comes naturally to those who are givers and not receivers.
All of these things have in one thing in common; a sense of being connected (even if momentarily) to someone or something. Moments of joy are those when we feel that the part of us that is the inner child is awake and loving life. Indeed children often seem to tap into joy more than adults....think of “jumping for joy” and you think of yourself as being childlike or perhaps like a new-born lamb discovering his legs for the first time. What happens to us as adults to deprive us of that?
There is a sense of freedom when one is experiencing joy; and when there is despair there is a sense of heaviness. Joy brings a sense of peace, whereas despair brings a sense of stagnation and meaninglessness. Before we die, it will be those moments of joy that we will wish to recall and be buoyed up by. We will turn to them to feel that our lives were good and that it was great to be alive. Near to our death, we are unlikely to be consoled much by the gods of pleasure and money. Of course, no-one would deny that it is good to have had those, but they won’t ultimately give anyone a sense that life has been good.
C S Lewis said, “I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.” If he were alive today, he would probably say just how much truer that is now. For the world is getting full pleasures and distractions – most of them offering instant gratification rather than something deeper. One wonders, for instance, how many people who find themselves addicted to Facebook would still be addicted if they had moments of joy in their lives.
And so, given how explosive joy can be one begins to see how, no matter how bad things are in a person’s life, joy can overcome it. Perhaps not permanently, permanent changes take time, but enough to give a sense that things are going to get better and that the world is not such a bad place after all. And when one is depressed, this is what one needs to feel. One needs to feel that life is worthwhile and that there is something in it that can make us feel good.
Counselling can be a perfect place to explore joy in your life. Do you have any? What is it and where does it come from? When are you likely to experience it? Is there someone who helps you to find it? If you don’t have any, why not? Have you stopped doing something that you used to do that brought you it? Are you somehow sabotaging it or is someone around you trying to do that? Have you started becoming overwhelmed by the cares, responsibilities and tasks of this world rather than allowing a space for joy?
Finding joy or at least creating the conditions were joy might arise can be an important way of moving out of depression. Joy can indeed be a barometer showing of how a person’s life is.