Rejoining Joy

Ways of living

How to Reclaim Happiness

Reclaiming Happiness

Sally felt empty. Was anyone listening to her? John felt lost and depressed. Would he ever feel happy? Despite his good marks, Stan felt he had no future. Terri was worried about her relationship because her previous ones ended quickly. Jim was angry that things were not going his way. These are the stories that people tell me in my practice. Part of my therapeutic approach is to help them tell different stories, by using the concepts of rejoining joy and adopting appropriate ways of living.

All of us are deeply psychological beings. We live complex lives, but how do we live our best lives? Our daily experiences might be too difficult for us, bringing stress. Or, our past might be filled with lingering difficulties that bring us stress. Also, for any of multiple reasons, we might have bad habits that get in the way of our important goals, best values, and good habits. Further, there are biological vulnerabilities to consider, for example, those caused by injuries, accidents, illness, and others that impact physical health. Finally, we might be doing quite well, but members of our family, or other loved ones, might be experiencing difficulties that affect us.

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No one is free from daily stress or from living each day as a challenge. Part of the stress and challenge that we face might be a question of perception -- things might not be as difficult as we perceive. Whatever the source, many of our stresses require our best effort and coping skills. Some of us succeed, and others less so. It is impossible to stay constantly happy throughout each day. Inevitably, there are downs, or even deep feelings of being overwhelmed or having too many problems and losses. However, the stresses that we face, a crisis or danger, can be confronted successfully and our ability to deal with them can improve.

As we face these stresses, many forces could tax us or put strain on both our personal coping mechanisms and our system of supports. Stress can drag us down, can lead us to "act out," and can push us toward bad habits. It is impossible to reach a state of pure joy and stay at that level. Moreover, wanting to live continually in such a state is not a helpful goal. Rather, it is more important to strive to be on the right path to joy, even if we cannot be there continuously.

But how can this goal of being on the right path be achieved? True joy and efforts to rejoin it involve the goal of wanting to grow constantly--wanting to grow psychologically is the ultimate joy. In addition, stress could be a growth experience, and should not be something to avoid at all costs. When we experience distress, this does not mean that happiness automatically ends, because it could prepare for returning to it. Life should be considered as the constant living of rejoining joy, rather than a seeking of living in constant joy. Each time we pass through bad times and resist bad habits, we broaden and build ourselves.

The ability to rejoin joy is facilitated by having the correct attitude and knowledge. When we experience a deeper understanding of what joy is and how to get there, we can arrive at the path leading to it both easier and for longer. Having a deeper understanding of joy and the pathway to it means having the right values, habits, and helping behavior in place. When we live solely for ourselves and for immediate pleasures, we become continuously frustrated.

In contrast, by increasingly opening our minds and giving of ourselves, both joy and being on the right path to joy become more possible. Getting on the path to joy requires us to develop both healthy and respectful ways of living in our daily lives. Our roles, responsibilities, caring behavior, actions, thoughts, and feelings all need to be in synchrony. Once we adopt this attitude, stress is easier to handle and reclaiming our happiness is easier to achieve.

But how can we resist external stresses, bad habits, and wrong messages from others, from the media, and so on? We need to appreciate that we all have it in us to become the being that we want, or at least to get on the path to that person. At each moment in our lives, we have positive options that we can choose, instead of negative ones. We need to remind ourselves that there are positive choices that we can make in most any situation, that we have made positive choices before in other situations, and that we can continue making positive choices no matter what happens along our path.

In future columns, I will suggest other ways of rejoining joy and improving ways of living. At times, I will refer to the scientific literature, including my own publications, or my self-help book series. Looking forward to communicating with you.

Copyright Gerald Young

Gerald Young, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at York University.

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