How to Find Joy, the Lasting Happiness
Wanda Sevey, MDiv, LMFT helps individuals, couples, and families with communication and relationship skill building. She is trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy and highly skilled at coping with stress, anxiety, and depression.
Years ago, a wise friend advised me, “Don’t let anyone take away your joy.” I was in a rough place, experiencing some struggles as a woman in my former workplace. He was an African American pastor who had faced many struggles of his own. This conversation stuck with me and led me to think about the difference between happiness and joy.
Happiness results from experiencing positive emotions and avoiding negative ones. Being interested or feeling pleasure makes us feel happy. Experiencing anger or sadness makes us feel unhappy. Emotions change from moment to moment. On any given day we experience many emotions, some of them make us happy and some make us sad.
But sometimes anxiety, sadness, or struggle outweigh pleasure and fun. How do we cope then? These are the times when we need to focus on joy. When circumstances create a shortage of positive emotions, we must connect with joy, the lasting happiness.
There is more than one way to define joy but I think of it as the root or source of our happiness. Joy remains constant even when emotions change.
Here are some ways you can call upon the sources of joy in your life:
- Discover the goodness of life that outweighs the bad for you. My old pastor friend discovered that his faith was the good news that outweighed any bad news or obstacle that life threw in his path. His faith gave him peace and joy even when there were a lot of reasons for him to be unhappy.
- Reflect on what renews and refreshes you. Think of the times, places and experiences in your life when you have felt the safest, the calmest and the most at ease. The philosopher Albert Camus once wrote that “in the midst of winter, I found that there was, within me, an invincible summer.” He was speaking about the experience of going inside himself and discovering what renewed him time and time again, regardless of his circumstances.
- Find out what keeps you going when circumstances are not so pleasant. It can be the warmth of family, the love of friends, the sound of the sea or the peace of a quiet place. When you need to reconnect to joy, close your eyes and take yourself back to those moments, people and places.
- Stay true to your values. Each of us has a set of values we live by. Becoming more conscious of our values and living by them as well as we can brings us joy. For example, we don’t have to be happy in order to be kind, to be a good friend or to respect others. Living out our values brings us satisfaction deeper than a fleeting positive emotion.
- Remember those who have loved you. I like to think of Harry Potter. It really wasn’t his wizarding power that helped him in the end. In the most difficult moments of his life, Harry would hear and see those who loved him and helped him along the way. His parents, and his former teachers and mentors would appear to him and remind him who he is and what is important to him.
- Remember that things don’t always go our way. Find ways to hold onto your inner resources and remind yourself of your strength. Heather Christensen, a Unitarian Universalist minster faced difficult times this week. She wrote on her Facebook page “Steel yourself, because things may not turn out the way you’d like, and disappointment is a killer. But also fill up your heart and soul with goodness, so that you will have strength for whatever comes.” She is finding that the smiles of her children and the beauty of the gifts from friends are bringing her joy.
- Consider your therapist as a resource for exploring meaning in your life. Clients come to therapy to identify what and how they want to change, to create new habits and change old patterns. Discovering your values, priorities, and inner resources are often a part of this conversation. Identifying and pursuing your sources of joy can be part of the therapy journey.
Wanda Sevey, MDiv, LMFT is a CFR Staff Therapist and ordained minister in the progressive United Church of Christ. Request an appointment with Wanda today at our University City, Voorhees, or Lawrenceville offices.