Can you remember the last time you experienced joy?
The sad truth is, many people can’t answer this. Knowing this, it’s easy to believe joy is simply a self-help term rather than an actual posture of the soul. It’s also easy to believe everyone else is feeling joy but you.
I don’t blame you if you are part of the population who believes joy skips over you.
But if you are someone who believes this, here are some comforting words for you: It’s not that you can’t experience joy; it’s that you learned not to.
The real reason you can’t experience joy
Shame is the reason we don’t experience more joy in life.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brene Brown defines shame as, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
Shame makes us believe we’re not worthy of a better life, or not capable of achieving it. And so, we create defenses that seal us up from experiences of joy.
But shame has many manifestations in our lives. It can lead us to believe we don’t have enough money, we can’t grow in our abilities, or even, we can’t do anything to change our circumstances.
In my study on joy, I discovered 10 mindsets that prevent us from experiencing joy. Each mindset is birthed from a place of shame.
In our childhood, we have learned to adopt one or more of these mindsets. They protected us from feeling shame back then. Now, they get in the way of experiencing joy.
But good news is, if we can grow in our awareness of these mindsets, we can do everything in our power to fight them. So let’s begin by naming each one:
1. The Reactive Mindset
Your alarm rings and you leap out of bed. You’re instantly thrown into the chaos of your daily schedule. The rest of your day is spent reacting to fires. Then, you wind up at the end of the day and wonder, what did I accomplish today? Worse, you wind up at the end of the year and wonder, what did I do this year?
The Reactive Mindset gets in the way of joy by leading us to believe we have no control of our circumstances. The more we believe this, the more life tosses us around and our muscle of personal agency atrophies.
We can either spend our time being proactive about our situations or reactive. Many people choose the latter. Why? Because time moves so fast, we’re left helpless to it. We’re led to believe we can’t do anything to take charge of our life and exercise our agency.
But we are not given agency for no reason. Agency is given to us so we can exercise it. We don’t have to be reactive to our hectic life. Instead, we can be proactive about it and design the life that gives us joy.
2. The Blame Mindset
When something goes wrong, it’s easy to blame others. This preserves our ego and protects us from feelings of shame.
But what happens when we always jump to blaming?
The habit of blame strips us of our ownership. And without ownership, we cannot learn more about our situations and take the actions needed to grow past them. Problems linger longer when we blame.
This is why blame is detrimental to our joy. Without assuming ownership, we poison our self and shackle ourselves to a victim identity. In a victim identity, we can never move past situations. We can only be products of them. It’s only when we move past this identity that we can experience joy.
3. The Numbing Mindset
One of the greatest discoveries for me regarding joy was this: if you close yourself off to negative emotions, you close yourself off to positive emotions. Numb one emotion, and you numb them all.
There are many ways we try to numb our emotions. You can take drugs, drink, gamble, play video games, or even watch Netflix. But numbing painful emotions and situations by “zoning out” doesn’t make our circumstances disappear. Numbing behaviors simply distract us, and let the painful emotions morph into something poisonous.
The more we numb, the less able we are to handle tough emotions and situations. But the more we express our emotions, allow them a safe outlet, the more we open ourselves up to joy.
4. The Drama Mindset
Ever wonder why you’re a drama magnet? Drama always seems to find you. At times you love it. It gives you something to talk about. But then, you feel like your life can never escape the drama. And both your heart and mind sinks under the weight of it.
Drama strips us of joy by always giving us a consuming problem. But here’s the catch: most of the drama we struggle with is just eating up the bandwidth of our brain, and is not as big as we imagine them to be.
When you remove yourself from drama, you free your brain to focus on the good, not on the problems that surround you.
Turns out, you don’t have to be a drama magnet. You don’t have to surround yourself with drama. And once you remove yourself from it, joy will find you.
5. The Fixed Mindset
“I can’t cook.” “I can’t run.” “I can’t play sports.” “I can’t get healthy.” “I can never do that.”
These are all examples of a Fixed Mindset. It’s when you believe your traits are fixed and there’s zero opportunity for growth.
Fixed Mindsets close us off to joy because in our minds, we can’t grow. We can never learn a new skill, develop ourselves, or become better. We are stuck as who we are and there’s nothing we can do about this.
Several studies destroy a Fixed Mindset. But because of shame, we hold firm to a Fixed Mindset. We believe we are not capable of bettering ourselves.
The opposite is a Growth Mindset. A Growth Mindset says we are capable of learning more. And the more we exercise our potential for growth, the more we have to be happy about.
6. The Scarcity Mindset
Scarcity Mindset is the mentality that there will never be enough. There will never be enough hours in the day, enough money, enough sleep, etc. When you live in this place of lack, you will hoard resources, shut down generosity, and foster fear.
One of the biggest ways Scarcity Mindset gets in the way of joy is through money. Many people believe they don’t have enough money to meet their demands. While this may be true, if a person lives in a Scarcity Mindset, they’ll stop looking for solutions and instead hoard their resources.
A Scarcity Mindset only fuels anxiety and fear. Once we move from “never enough” to “enough,” joy will follow.
7. The Loner Mindset
In her study on shame, Dr. Brene Brown listed empathy as the antidote to shame. If we want to get past our shame, we have to position ourselves in empathetic communities.
But for many people, this is a struggle. Our shame and hurt can cause us to create walls and isolate. We believe we can solve our hurt by ourselves.
Society doesn’t make this any easier. Advertisements and cultural messages preach an idea of self-sufficiency and getting through pain on your own.
Being a loner is detrimental to our health and happiness. You need deep relationships if you want to experience more joy.
8. The Comparison Mindset
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” — Theodore Roosevelt
Comparison often makes you feel ashamed of who/where you are or feel deprived of something that’s rightfully yours.
But comparison is common in today’s society. We’re constantly inundated with advertisements that sell us the glory of people who are “better” than us. We feel shame in who we are and what we have because of comparison. And as a result, joy is diminished.
But what if you didn’t have to compare yourself to that neighbor who has nicer cars than you? What if you didn’t have to compare yourself to your sister who gets paid more than you? What if you didn’t have to compare yourself to your friend who has the perfect family?
When we remove ourselves from habits of comparison, we lean into our present circumstances more. We become grateful and celebrate what we have and who we are. This is how we experience joy.
9. The Comfort Mindset
Do you find yourself consistently turning down fun events to stay in and binge-watch Netflix? Or do you find yourself scared to try new things or venture outside your bubble? Do the next few months of your life look the same? It’s possible you give too much emphasis to comfort in your life.
Now, it’s good to feel comfortable, but it’s bad to become addicted to comfort.
Comfort can become a poison if it shields us from experiencing new things, getting out there, and having fun.
Our brains crave novelty experiences. But comfort keeps us trapped in patterns of familiarity. If we always tend to stick where we feel comfortable, we’ll limit the joy we feel.
10. The Fear Mindset
Anxiety is the result of fear. We foster so much fear in our lives. Fear over money. Fear over our children. Fear over our future.
But this fear closes us off to joy because it overwhelms our minds. It leads us to believe that we can’t be happy or celebrate our current joyful moments because at any moment, it could be taken from you.
Fear is good when it keeps us safe from harmful situations. But much of the fear we experience on a daily basis is not keeping us safe. It’s worrying about things beyond our control. When you accept the things beyond your control, and learn to silence this daily fear, then you’ll open yourself up to the joy of today.
The promise of daily joy
Daily joy is not a fantasy. To find it, you need to explore these different mindsets and discover which ones you struggle with the most.
At some point in your history, you learned one of these mindsets. For instance, when I was a kid, my family didn’t have much money. I learned the Scarcity Mindset, and I carried that mindset into the present. Problem is, I don’t need to carry this mindset with me. I have more than enough money to take care of my family. This mindset steals my joy in the present day.
What you learned doesn’t have to be what you stick with. Daily joy is on the other side of these mindsets, and with a little help, you can get there.