It was after months of counseling that I reached a critical conclusion — one that would lead me to let go of my successful business and begin a journey into the unknown.
I needed to prioritize the discipline of joy.
Joy is often thought of as a frivolous and hokey sentiment. It’s a squishy concept lumped with happiness, and together, they frolic in fields and make a regular occurrence in Disney films.
Hardly anyone knows how to speak about joy or make it a priority in life.
So why would I believe joy is necessary for daily life? And why would I give up almost everything I had built just to pursue it?
You could find the answer to this question if you just look around. Today’s society needs more joy, but is cynical about ever experiencing it.
We assume life should always be happy with the occasional blip of sadness. Yet we live in the constant disappointment that life is actually sad with the occasional blip of happiness. Joy is such a far cry from the way most people live their daily lives. People have given up on joy.
But the good news is: joy is possible, even in today’s cynical society. It’s also one of the most important pursuits of our increasingly anxious and disappointed generation.
After studying joy for a full year, I’ve arrived upon 3 reasons why the pursuit of joy is more important than ever.
1. Joy makes us resilient.
One of the most surprising finds of my study on joy was that joy and resiliency are two sides of the same coin.
The most joyful people are resilient and the most resilient people are joyful.
The basis of this discovery stems from a study done by Barbara Fredrickson at the University of Michigan. She discovered that positive emotions broaden our mindset which then build our skills. This is labeled as the “Broaden-and-Build” Theory.
This theory has since been expanded to lead to new discoveries. More present research has revealed that positive emotions (such as joy) also help us bounce back from negative experiences. When positive emotions broaden our mindset, they lead individuals to pursue more effective coping mechanisms for negative experiences.
In short, joy helps us bounce back.
When Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, lost her husband unexpectedly, she didn’t expect joy to be the pursuit she leaned into. Yet, in her book, Option B, she described joy as a discipline. In her time of greatest despair, she realized joy was not just happy emotions. Joy gave her the strength to keep showing up, even when times were hard.
We are guaranteed setbacks. But joy is the discipline that helps us come back stronger than ever. And in times when setbacks appear to be more frequent, this is exactly what we need.
2. Joy makes us resistant.
“Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.” -Helen Keller
If resilience is bouncing back from disturbances, resistance is about being immune to disturbances.
Yes, we will have experiences that shatter us. That’s where resiliency comes into play. But resistance is about never falling victim to the matters that shouldn’t shatter us.
This is a challenge because today’s society is primed to make you feel less joy.
Take the news cycle for example. We are daily fed negative news. And it’s not the news reporters’ fault. Our brains give a higher importance to negative news. This means, to attract our attention, the news cycle has to give us negative news.
But here’s the problem: this constant stream of negative news can lead to major stress in our lives.
NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found this to be true when they conducted a recent survey of 2,500 Americans. The survey suggests that 1 in 4 of these Americans reported feeling “a great deal of stress” after watching the news.
The news cycle was just one example. There’s much more than news cycle that contributes to our lack of joy.
As a result, almost 1 in 5 adults struggles with anxiety today. Our society is not conditioned to deliver us joy.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t find it.
In my study on joy, I found that the more language you have around how you experience joy, the more you can summon it on demand. Even if your environment is primed to steer you toward negativity, you can resist and not be a product of your environment.
3. Joy makes us healthy.
In 2018, the life expectancy of America dropped for the second year in a row. In a surprising statement from Dr. Steven Woolf, a co-author of this report, there were two causes of this drop: the opioid crisis and despair.
That’s right. Despair in the United States was large enough to drop the life expectancy of the entire nation.
Despair, in Dr. Steven Woolf’s mind, were deaths caused by drugs, alcohol, suicides, etc. The unhappiness of today’s society is literally killing us.
On the other side of despair, there’s joy. Joy makes us healthy, both emotionally and physically.
Take laughter for example. A recent study on laughter revealed that when we laugh with others, we release endorphins in our brain via opioid receptors. What’s astonishing is that these are the same receptors that opioid drugs attach to to provide a euphoric feeling. This suggests we can enter into a state of euphoria similar to an opioid drug (without the negative setbacks) by simply laughing.
Laughter can also increases the quality of our relationships, which keeps us both emotionally and physically healthier by just being around people.
Without practicing the discipline of joy, we fall susceptible to all sorts of health concerns such as loneliness, numbing, and anxiety. This goes to show, if you want to live a holistic healthy lifestyle, you don’t just need to go to the gym. You need to practice joy.
The difference between happy and joy
People favor happiness. But should happiness be our priority over joy? It’s my conclusion that it shouldn’t.
Happiness is a fleeting emotion based on external circumstances. If you’re laughing with friends, you have both happiness and joy.
But joy is an internal positivity that’s connected to hope. It’s the feeling that everything will turn out okay. With joy, you don’t have to put on a happy face. You can be joyful in the midst of the toughest situations.
This is something society today hasn’t grasped. We chase after euphoric feelings of happiness without building the foundation of joy that can help us weather storms much better.
Like I said before: we don’t live in a happy world with occasional blips of sadness. It’s the other way around. With joy as our priority, the hope that things will get better will push us to actually make life better.
Joy is what we need now more than ever.