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How Do I Know What Brings Me Joy?

We must become more embodied and purposefully expose ourselves to joy.

Jamie Grill Atlas/Stocksy
Source: Jamie Grill Atlas/Stocksy

A key part of adulthood and relational trauma recovery work entails: cultivating more joy in your life.

I also specifically want to talk about how hard it can feel for those who come from relational trauma backgrounds to even remotely know what brings them joy if they didn’t experience joy in their childhood and or if they have a hard time connecting to their bodies.

And I want to address this because joy is incredibly important.

Aside from the fact that it feels good, joy is one of the keys on the emotional keyboard of life we can and should be able to access to proverbially play the richest and most enlivened emotional music possible.

What do I mean by this?

If you imagine a piano keyboard and all its attendant, beautiful black and ivory keys, you can imagine that each key represents an emotion that we experience in our human lives: sadness, lust, grief, horror, anger, peace, contentment, pride, impatience, love, devotion, and so forth.

With the emotional keyboard of life, the goal is not to learn and be able to play only a few keys.

The goal is, instead, to learn how to play the richest piece of music possible by developing your capacity to feel and appropriately express each of the proverbial keys on this keyboard.

And joy is one of these keys.

And it is, quite frankly, a really delightful and delicious one to feel.

I would also argue that, for those who come from relational trauma backgrounds, it becomes even more important for you to learn how to “play this key” so to speak.


Because so often when we come from relational trauma backgrounds the general overtone of our lives can be dominated by notes and themes of hardness, heaviness, suffering, fear, lack, challenge, and survival.

After so much time playing these particular keys on the keyboard and having missed out on the joy all children are entitled to early in life, we then owe it to ourselves as adults to learn how to play this proverbial key and to intentionally play it more often in the music of our days.

But how do you know what brings you joy if you had a childhood deprived of joy?

And even if you don’t come from a relational trauma background, how do you begin to feel joy when you are, quite frankly, utterly exhausted, burned out, and totally depleted given the stress, overwhelm, and responsibilities of your days?

To the latter: It is very, very hard to feel what brings you joy when you are burned out.

Your first order of business is to rest, deeply recover from burnout and come back to a psychological and physiological baseline.

Only then will you be able to better feel what brings you joy.

And to those who identify with coming from a relational trauma background, our work to discover what brings us joy is two-fold:

  • We must become more embodied
  • We must expose ourselves to more activities, experiences, and situations to see what signals joy in our bodies

I want to honor and acknowledge that, for those of us who come from relational trauma backgrounds, to survive our early childhoods, many of us may have learned to disconnect from our bodies — the place where we felt so many overwhelming and sometimes devastating feelings.

What brings joy? We need to learn how to gently, slowly, attentively begin to befriend our bodies again, tracking them for the sensations that indicate we are responding to something that it is bringing us joy.

We may need to learn to become embodied again to figure out what brings us joy.

And after becoming more embodied and more familiar with the subtle sensations in your own body, you can then discover what brings you more joy by exposing yourself to more situations, activities, circumstances, and places that will allow you to track how they make you feel.

How do we do this?

Think about all the interests and activities in the world, and think about how you can expose them to a child. Take your inner child and pursue these activities.

Go for a long walk, pick up a set of Magnatiles, wear blouses with embroidery and fun prints, have a movie night with friends, and enjoy lots of snacks.

The possibilities are endless, but please remember to be in the consistent pursuit of joy.

Allow yourself to register that delicious somatic sensation in your body.

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