The Pursuit of Happiness: Choosing Joy Instead
As a counselor, I hear it all of the time, “I just want to be happy.”
We live in this world where a lot of us have a difficult relationship with happiness. Sometimes it’s because we think something is wrong with us if we’re not happy. Or maybe we think we will “be happy” once we reach a certain point or accomplish something. As people, we also can be very “black and white.” If something hard happens in our day, we come home and say how “bad” the day was and focus on it. When we find ourselves falling into these thinking patterns, it’s hard to feel happiness in the middle of our challenging and busy lives.
In my opinion, HAPPINESS is…
MORE ABOUT JOY.
We tend to think of happiness as a state of being. In fact, when you google “happiness,” one of the synonyms is “well-being.” So we determine if we are happy based on if we are generally “well” or not. The problem with this is that its normal to have unpleasant feelings at some point every day, especially if you are going through a transition or loss. If instead of using the word happiness, we use the word joy, we can break away from the unrealistic expectations that come with the word happiness. No one is feeling happy all of the time, but we can feel feelings of joy that come and go.
Happiness (or joy) is a feeling that comes to us in a moment. Our days are filled with so many feelings and joy can be one of them. It’s also ok to feel many feelings at once or even close together. When we embrace the gray area of our emotions, we are more likely to let the difficult ones pass and be more present for the joy moments and feelings. In the book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says “Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.”
We don’t often think of it this way, but engaging in joy can be a practice. Joy can come from an external experience, like when someone we love smiles at us. Often though, we have the power to bring joy into our days. One way to practice this is to create a “joy jar.” The goal is to have a jar in your house where you write one thing down every day that brought you a brief feeling of joy. You may increase your feelings of joy as you see the jar fill up. You may even feel joy as you re-read the notes. Or you may even find yourself focusing more on joy day-to-day and engaging in activities that may bring some joy so you have something to add to your jar. If you get stuck writing something down one day, try writing down something you are grateful for. What we focus on matters.
HARD for a reason.
Brené Brown says happiness or joy is “terrifying” for many of us to feel. Joy can feel extremely vulnerable and we often get anxious and don’t let our guard down when we are feeling joy because we’re afraid of what might happen next. We also often don’t celebrate as well as we should. When something difficult happens, like getting criticized at work, we give that a lot of space and time in our lives. When we get a compliment, we often tend to brush it off or even barely acknowledge it. The thing to do here is this… when you get a compliment- say thank you, savor it, lean into that vulnerability by letting yourself spend 5 minutes thinking of it. Or even physically pat yourself on the back! When you succeed, tell someone! We need to share our wins and not just our losses with each other. Joy grows when shared.
The last and maybe most important thing to remember is this...
ITS OK TO NOT BE HAPPY.
Some days may not include happiness or joy... and that’s normal. Especially if you are going through a difficult loss, change, or a transition... feeling joy may seem
far away. The best thing we can do is give ourselves permission to feel sad, afraid, and low sometimes and try to lean into everyday moments of joy whenever we can.
Bridget Caragher, LCSW is a clinical therapist and co-founder of Green Door Therapy. She supports individuals managing anxiety, relationship issues, life transitions, and engaging in personal growth. She is located in Villa Park, IL.