I was recently playing a game with my husband. We’d just watched the animated film “Inside Out” and we were casting the voice actors for our own emotions: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Anxiety. We both agreed that Robin Williams would make an amazing voice for Joy.
Then I started to wonder about that control panel in the movie. It was filled with buttons and switches that our emotions press and turn. Then we react accordingly. As we get older, and hopefully wiser, the panel gets more sophisticated. But what’s on that control panel? What’s anger make you do? What about sadness? Is there a button that makes you curl up under the covers and cry?
I journaled about it — parsing out each emotion and what sort of controls they would have in my mind. My Anxiety, by far, had the most buttons to push. It could play me like a fiddle. Then when I got to Joy, the panel was sparse, and there wasn’t much more for Sadness. The big difference was that my Joy created more positive, feel-good feelings. Whereas my Sadness was just spawning behaviors and feelings to perpetuate itself.
Sadness spawns feelings of:
- Pessimism, hopelessness
- Emptiness, boredom
- Physically heavy and slow
- Withdrawing from social engagements, isolation
- Take bath or shower
- Recalling lonely memories
My sadness has a penchant for rolling around in its own mess. Joy on the other hand had too few behaviors, which made me wonder if that’s why it’s so hard for me to sustain this emotion.
Joy spawns emotions:
- Resilience, adaptability
- Giving to others
- Assuring others
- Laughing, smiling
- Hopping, bouncing, skipping
When I think of the last time I showed my Joy by dancing and bouncing around, I feel embarrassed. Shame put the kibosh on that behavior real quick. So Joy doesn’t get to preserve itself quite like Sadness because being hyper and footloose isn’t necessarily socially acceptable. Often when we see an extremely happy person our knee jerk response is, “They’re obnoxious.”
To embrace joyful behaviors I’m going to have to stop being so judgmental. Instead of thinking “Wow, that happy person didn’t get the memo that the whole world has gone mad,” I’m going to have to let the happiness of others be contagious. I’ll also have to learn to make happiness where there is none.
Unlike Sadness, Joy is also dependent on a lot of uncontrollable and/or external factors. We tell ourselves, “I would be happy if…” That condition would be anything from “if I made more money” to “if I just had more time.” It’s like Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey wrote in Slowing Down to the Speed of Life:
“You set up a condition in your mind that must be met in order for you to be happy, then you use that very condition as ammunition against yourself when it falls short.”
Does this sound familiar? Do you allow your Joy to be ruled by the uncontrollable, by the external? But what if the condition to feel Joy was simply to want to feel it? What if giving in to Joy was just as easy as giving in to Sadness?
Here are a few steps to embrace Joy and give it a little more control over your life:
- Think of Joy as a right. Everyone has a right to experience pure happiness. It’s sensible and sustainable. When you see someone walking around with a big goofy grin, know they’ve got it figured out. They’re focused on what’s really important and you can be too. Focus on silver linings.
- Find new ways to express Joy. When you feel really good, tap into gratitude and get it all over everyone. Show your loved ones how much you care. Smile at a stranger for no reason. Practice random acts of kindness. Don’t give in to shame and begin telling yourself lies like, “I shouldn’t be happy because other people are having a tough time.” When you wear Joy on your shoulder, you can influence your environment and maybe help to sustain it.
- Find new ways to sustain Joy. This could be rewarding yourself with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, hanging out with your friends, helping others, or doing something charitable. Perhaps you feel better when you get regular exercise or eat more mindfully. Put down the iPad, stop playing Pokemon Go, and listen to what your mind and body really need.