All About Joy

So often when my patients sit down with me, I ask them to “tell me what is going well for you”. This is not to avoid addressing the hard spots, or the difficulties in my patient’s lives, but rather to attune the mind to the wholeness, strength and wellbeing that is in every person, even in the most difficult of times. Joy is what helps us get through the dark nights of the soul, and it is an important quality of the heart to cultivate to reach one’s optimal potential.

The boundless qualities of the heart all work together to illuminate a human life from within.  Joy is that quality of vitality, energy, pleasure, satisfaction and delight that we feel when we watch puppies playing, a child laughing, or birds soaring in the currents of the wind.  Joy is far from a luxury. Joy is as essential to fulfilling our potential as the qualities of calm equanimity, a sense of interconnection, compassion for the suffering in our own and others’ lives, and kindness combined with right attitude and right effort.

In this world where overdevelopment of the drive and threat systems in our human lives is taken to extremes in our education and workplace cultures, resulting in burnout, isolation, depression, and anxiety, joy brings us back to the awareness that we have come so far, that we have accomplished goals, that we have precious qualities of heart and mind to contribute to our own lives, the lives of those we love, our communities and the living world. We have conquered obstacles, we have grown from our hardships, we have harboured dreams and achieved them, and there is often far more right with us than wrong with us. It is important to attune our attention to those qualities within ourselves and our world that create the conditions for  joy and appreciation of ourselves and our lives.

Joy in one’s own triumphs, progress and successes is not arrogance. Arrogance takes pride in rankings, classifications and separations from others.  Arrogance separates us from others, and consequently makes us very vulnerable when conditions change, when we fall from our place at the top of the world, which is inevitable in every human life. Joy on the other hand connects us to others, and consequently makes us more powerful when conditions change; when we reflect on joy we see that changing conditions are not us, ourselves or ours, they are simply part of every human life.  Joy also allows us to genuinely celebrate when others do well, as it assists us in reducing our own natural tendency towards viewing ourselves as lacking in some way, and allows us to approach others from an attitude of generosity and confidence in our own value.

Each day take some time to notice what brings that quality of joy to you; if you pay close attention, the world is offering joy at almost every turn.  At my gym I noticed that the lunch counter guy always arranged the fruit in the yogurt cups in beautiful designs and commented on it: his face lit up knowing that someone had appreciated his artistry.  We can offer joy to others.  Take some time to appreciate and take joy in the qualities and experiences you have had that bring you joy; if you pay close attention you can see that each human life has moments of connection, compassion, courage, creativity, humour and love.  This can be hard to do if you have a mind (as many human minds do) that tends towards depletion or towards criticism. It is important to know that joy is a human birthright, the seed of which is in every human heart. Open your attention to small moments of joy in yourself and others, and you will find it a wonderful balm and balancing force in your life.

If you are curious to learn more about joy, join one of our 8 week mindful self compassion sessions, a mindfulness retreat, or the compassionate mind training courses we offer at Ottawa River Psychology Group. There are many others on a similar journey to you, and the seeds of potential for all of these unlimited qualities of heart are in every person.

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