And How to Keep From Losing it in the First Place.
Have you ever had a time when you felt like you were going through life on autopilot, or that you just felt “flat?” If so, you’re certainly not alone. While we all feel that way at one time or another, it could mean you’ve lost touch with your joy. That’s not a place you want to be in for long. As we know, our mind, body and overall wellbeing are connected, and joy plays a critical role in this circle of integrated wellness.
But what is joy really, how do you know if you’ve lost it and most importantly, how do you regain it? I went to “The Joy Doctor” to find the answers to these important questions. Dr. Shannon South, LPC, ThD is a transpersonal therapist and author who has been through quite a bit of trauma herself, has come out on the other side and now helps others to overcome trauma by focusing on what is right about themselves – their joy. With her expertise to guide us, we’re going to learn about ways to regain our joy and how we can keep from losing it in the first place.
What is Joy?
In the transpersonal world, joy is a state of consciousness that we can all access at any time. According to Dr. Shannon, “It’s different than happiness because happiness can depend on exterior circumstances. Joy is more about our true nature.” Even though we have it naturally, studies show that we can also train our brains to have more joy and to access it more quickly. Dr. Shannon explains that, “It doesn’t have to be like fireworks, it can be a calm fullness. Kind of like an underground stream that’s just there.”
The Importance of Joy in our Lives
So why is it important that we have joy in our lives? At its most basic level, it helps us to feel alive but not get bogged down by life. Without it, Dr. Shannon says, “Life’s exhausting. It’s flattening.” She compares it to the difference between a color sheet and black and white. “It’s a multi-dimensional experience versus this kind of just automaton flatness that we get when we’re not really accessing our joy.” In other words, joy is good for our soul, which in turn affects everything else, including our health.
Joy makes us healthier because it helps us deal with trauma, stress, depression, anxiety or drama before our fight or flight response begins running the show. When we’re stuck in fight or flight, the more health problems and mental illness are going to show up. According to Dr. Shannon, “When you look at the brain of people who have more joy, their health is better, and they can see the bigger picture better instead of getting lost. The forest instead of the trees kind of thing, which helps deal with stress. It’s important that we can access joy because it helps pad the difficult problems that we’re going to have.”
Studies show that being in a constant state of fight or flight literally breaks our bodies down. On the other hand, joy does the opposite. Dr. Shannon says, “We’re in our pleasure, we’re in our purpose, we’re in our creativity and we’re in our flow state. That means we’re out of fight or flight.”
Ways We Lose Joy
According to Dr. Shannon, the following are some of the primary ways that women especially can lose their joy.
- Our lives are dictated by roles and rules. These can be through unhealthy relationships, our own expectations of ourselves or allowing society to define us. By conforming to these all of the time, “We’re not allowing our true authenticity, our freedom, our spontaneity, or our real needs to come to the forefront.” This can drain our joy as life becomes automatic or flat.
- Constant stress and worry. If we don’t have good mechanisms to deal with stress, we get caught in fight or flight. This slowly wears away at us until there’s no joy left. The same holds true for worrying. “Our brain is not meant to be used for worrying. It’s meant to be used for problem solving and creating solutions.”
- Multitasking. This may be something we take great pride in, but it’s actually draining for our life, health and joy. Dr. Shannon believes that by multitasking, “We’re only 50 percent present to our lives.” We’re not truly paying attention to any one thing that we’re doing, so there’s not an opportunity to find or appreciate joy in anything. It comes down to how many things we can check off at once as opposed to fully being present.
- Past traumas that haven’t been resolved. This can lead to depression and anxiety, which again, can cause us to get stuck in fight or flight mode.
- Caregiving ourselves to death. We’re so focused on serving and pleasing everyone around us that we lose ourselves.
So how can we recognize that we’ve lost our joy? Dr. Shannon hears women say all the time that “I have all these reasons to be joyful, but I can’t feel them.” If you’re having trouble feeling your life or as Dr. Shannon says, “feeling your heart,” then you may have gotten lost in your focus. You may have lost your joy.
6 Ways to Find Joy Again
While finding joy is different for everyone, Dr. Shannon offers the following suggestions that work for many people.
- Mindfulness and reducing multitasking. Be fully present and allow yourself to experience the joy in each moment and in everything that you’re doing, no matter how big or small. Notice how things feel, sound and smell. If you’re doing the dishes, throw yourself into it 100 percent. If you’re cooking dinner, think about what it feels like to peel the potatoes or to cut up the zucchini. Notice what the basil, oregano or other herbs really smell like as they’re cooking.
- Find activities that give you pleasure. Dr. Shannon points out that pleasure is not joy, but positive emotions help create and get in tune with joy.
- Develop healthy relationships. Dr. Shannon says that women are so relationally-oriented that balanced and supportive relationships with friends and family can be key to living a joyful life.
- Healing old trauma. If old traumas are clouding our here and now, it’s draining our energy whether we know it or not. Resolving those things to where they don’t feel like they have an emotional charge anymore is key.
- Self-care rituals. Dr. Shannon compares the clutter in our lives to the clutter in our homes or the dirt on our car. It builds up all of the time. We have to maintain our home and we have to clean our cars. It’s the same with our own self. “We need self-care rituals so as to keep our windshield clear so it’s not full of mud. We’ve got to keep ourselves clean and clear and tuned in to joy and love through prayer, meditation, pleasurable events and activities.”
- Get in your flow with some kind of creative project. If we can lose ourselves in a positive way in something, it’s really good for us. It lets us forget about our problems and remember the good stuff.
Finding our joy isn’t just important for ourselves. It affects everything and everyone around us. If we’re filled with joy and know how to tap into it, the effects will carry over to our relationships, our work and our service to others. Joy is contagious and gives us a chance to offer something positive “that’s catching” to the world around us. It gives us a chance to not only change our lives but the lives of those we love, like and maybe don’t even know at all. What a gift!
What’s Your Joy IQ?
If you want to find out what your level of joy is, you can take Dr. Shannon’s What’s Your Joy IQ? quiz. It will also help you to get rid of any “joy busters” and discover how to increase the joy in your life. If you’re looking for other resources on joy, be sure and check out Dr. Shannon’s blog.
Lean on Your Community
What are the biggest ways that you lose joy in your life, and what are two things that you’re going to try to cultivate more of it? You can reply in the comments section below, head over to the Peppermint Tea & Me Facebook page and leave your answers there or simply email me at [email protected]. We’re here to support each other. After all, this world needs all the joy-filled people we can get!