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Joy Is a Verb, Not a Noun

Instead of searching for joy, start en-joying!

Key points

  • International Day of Happiness reminds us that joy is not a fixed state.
  • Instead, there are lots of little moments of joy that are happening all the time (if you dare to notice them).
  • We were all born with the ability to feel and experience joy.
  • You can relearn (and rewire your brain) to experience joyous moments more often, thereby increasing your happiness.
Source: White77/Pixabay

Yesterday, the 20th of March, was the International Day of Happiness. It presents a great opportunity to explore what joy actually means and how to attain it.

Joy. A great feeling. We all want it. Media and self-help books market joy as the ultimate way to live ("… and they lived happily ever after"). Joy awaits us just around the corner. and in recognition of the international day of happiness, complete the following sentence:

“Joy is ________”

What did you say?

My un-joy story

About two years ago, we moved cities from my hometown to a new city. After we moved, my wife Galit, who is an avid optimist, noticed that even though I’m really happy with the move in front of the kids, I would mostly express my difficulty with the move. She also shared that generally I don’t express much joy at home.

That seemed strange to me because in my mind I’m a very playful guy. But her feedback led me to confront myself and recognize that indeed I find it difficult to feel and express joy. I realized I have a limiting core belief about joy—essentially that it is scary and elusive

I knew I could do better for myself and for my family. This insight sent me on a mission to reclaim joy. I began by investigating my clients' beliefs about joy. I got fascinating answers, such as joy is an illusion, it's sadness, it's being selfish. And more.

Tax of the no-joy

When joy isn’t a readily available emotion, several dynamics are set in motion:

  • Sarcasm. When you are afraid or unable to express joy, then often you’ll resort to cynicism or sarcasm as a safer and easier way to express satisfaction. The problem is that sarcasm can be a form of micro-aggression and therefore can, over time, harm your relationships. See more about the dangers of sarcasm in relationships here.

  • Bitterness. Scarce access to joy can make you heavy and focus on what's going wrong. See more about the relational tax of bitterness here.
  • Judgmental and shaming of others’ joy. When joy isn’t easily accessed, it is judged when seen on others. Happy people will be labeled and judged according to the bleak limiting beliefs surrounding joy.
  • Negative legacy. Your children implicitly learn that joy is not a valid, desired feeling and will adapt accordingly.

Seeing this dynamic unfold in my marriage and in my clinic led me to realize two things. Firstly, that there is no such thing as a full, static state of joy, but rather, there are lots of little moments of joy that are happening all the time (if you dare to see them). And secondly:

Joy is a verb, not a noun

As children we have access to all the emotions, but as we grow older some lose access to the joyful feelings. Over time this limits emotional range. But if we knew wonder once, we can reclaim it. It won’t come naturally at first, but remember that you are rewiring your brain to seek out and express more moments of joy. Behavioral change is always somewhat fake at first. All it takes is hard, conscious, practical work. Easier said than done, I know. But here’s how you can do it:

  1. Reflect on your joy availability. If you are not sure, ask your partner or a friend; they will let you know how gleeful you come across. If you find it hard to access feelings in general, you might want to read here about widening your emotional range.

  2. Discover and distill your core beliefs about joy. Reflect on your family’s take on joy, and see if that belief still serves you. Read here how to uncover and soften core beliefs.
  3. Follow the butterfly. Begin to notice those small moments of joy. It can be as small as receiving a nice email at work, tasting that yummy coffee, hearing your favorite song in the mall, or even just seeing a cute puppy.
  4. “En-joy yourself”—Verbalize the little moments of joy in real time. Say it out loud. Broadcast live your joy, even if people around you might look at you strangely. By expressing it, you are giving yourself permission to feel it, as well as anchoring the sparkling moments.
  5. Exaggerate the elation. Take those small moments of joy and magnify them. Why? So you can experience those fleeting moment of joy for longer. How? Do a little dance, sing, express it with more words, look to the sky and say thank you. Anything that will help you cherish this moment for a little longer.
  6. Play with (your) children. Play is the lubricant of life and is children's' mother tongue. They naturally express unabashed cheer from the smallest moments. When they do, join the party!
  7. Expect resistance. Your partner may not be accustomed to your new delightful manner, but keep joy-ing up your day.

Again, joy is a muscle the use of which requires rewiring the brain. But it’s worth it. Not just on March 20th, but every day. Alas, joy is contagious: When you start practicing joy, you are encouraging your partner, children, and people in your life to en-joy those subtle moments of delight.


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