What is Joy?

Hello! It’s good to be back to the blog after my long weekend away. I was at a retreat for female sex addicts and sexual anorexics. The theme for the weekend was “Discovering Joy in Recovery.” Boy, did I need that! I have been doing the hard work of recovery and trauma therapy, trying to abandon myself to really feeling my feelings, but mostly just feeling overwhelmed at the present and grief about the past, with not a lot of other emotions in between.

Joy is something I have so seldom experienced in my life. I want to experience it more- even to have it as my underlying, base emotion/experience, rather than the pervasive sadness that accompanies facing the truth of my past. But it has seemed so elusive! It turns out, however, that I have been carrying around some pretty big misconceptions about what joy is, and isn’t.  And my new understanding has me pretty darned excited.

I have always understood that there’s a difference between joy and feelings like happiness or excitement or pleasure. You can feel those things completely apart from joy. For instance, the high we get from acting out feels happy, exciting and pleasurable in the moment. But it is not joyful. It ultimately degrades and depresses us. 

But I also thought that joy is like feelings of happiness, excitement or pleasure in that I believed that it was something that just should appear in reaction to something else that happens to me. For instance, if I get a lovely, encouraging e-mail, I feel happy. If I get invited  to do something with others whose approval I want, I feel excited. If I’m given some exquisite chocolate fudge, I feel pleasure. So, it just naturally followed in my mind that I had to keep waiting for something good or profound enough to happen in my life that would produce joy.

Here’s another belief I carried: Being a Christian, I was taught that joy is (or should be) a product of knowing that I’m saved. But even that has failed to bring up the wellspring of joy in my heart. That makes me feel guilty and even fearful, which definitely do not lead to joy. I imagine that there are people who follow other spiritual paths who feel the same way.

So what did I learn that changed my perspective? I’d like to share an excerpt from a writing workshop I attended as a part of my weekend retreat:

What is joy? It’s being fully present and nonjudgemental. It’s being filled with awe, gratitude and hope. It’s putting down the hurt. It’s refusing to let others, my past, or fear dictate my attitude or choices. It’s full surrender and trust in God’s will. It’s the ability to be grateful for difficulties, recognizing them as spiritual refinement. It’s connection to the earth and awareness of God. It’s openness to tears and laughter. It’s lack of self-conscious inhibition. It’s having a sense of humor and taking things less seriously. It’s feeling all  of my feelings. It’s gratitude without expectations. It’s forgiveness and acceptance. It’s giving and receiving love without reservations. It’s authenticity, self-care, courage and contentment. It’s expecting blessings. It’s letting go.

Maybe it’s not so elusive! So many of these things are simply attitudes and thoughts. It’s about what I choose to focus on. That’s an empowering realization! I don’t have to wait for joy to just happen to me. I can make choices that naturally beget joy!

What a powerful change of perspective that was! It’s not about what happens to me. Rather, it’s about the thoughts and beliefs I choose to adopt about what happens to me. I’ll be writing more about this in the next couple of days. What I  can say right now is that changing the way I think, especially in response to things that happen to me unexpectedly, is not an overnight process. However, just realizing that I have some actual control over whether or not I experience joy (for I do believe that it’s about a choiceful experience, or a way of being rather than an emotion) has already made a big difference in my life in just a couple of days. That’s like a down-payment on hope! I’m very excited about this. Thanks for joining me on this journey.


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