The act of finding joy means finding what lights you up from the inside. It means genuinely being yourself and aligning with that definition of who you are. Finding and experiencing joy when you’ve previously been a people pleaser to the point of denying your own instincts in favor of what other people like is a different story. On a personal level I’ve been hitting some really difficult things mentally over the last few weeks. All of the dissatisfaction and distraction have created a breaking point of sorts where I know I don’t want to feel how I do on a given day. I want to head toward joy. I want to feel joy—not this anger or confusion or sadness over everything. That requires a deep knowing of who we are. I want to reiterate that finding joy is not a selfish act, this is a necessary act. In order to be of service to the world, we have to fill our cups.
There are people who don’t know how to do this. They may come across as narcissistic or selfish because they tend to be a bit more focused on themselves than other people. The truth is, these people are not selfish. Often they have the biggest hearts because they want to make sure they aren’t disappointing anyone. Other people’s validation means so much to them that they are constantly focused on how they should behave. And then, if and when they are given the opportunity to define what they want for themselves, they still look at how it impacts other people and they are more often than not spending most of their time figuring out how their choice is going to affect people down the line. This happens even when we choose breakfast. And no, I’m not exaggerating. Some of us are so trained and traumatized that we believe our actions alone can derail or harm others or even inconvenience them. Then we think about how that will impact our relationship with them. We fear loneliness and then create isolation with overthinking.
I want to talk about the psychophysiological component as well in that finding joy can be challenging because people who believe their actions can inconvenience others honestly no longer know what joy feels like. Any time they’ve gotten close, they’ve been shut down or told it’s wrong so in their brains, and their bodies, that feeling of joy is uncomfortable and they will tend to shy away from it. If you associate your happiness with making someone else miserable (or if you’ve been trained to believe that) you won’t allow that joy into your life. You will spend your life feeling guilt over happiness and waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a constant state of anxiety.
How do we do that when we haven’t been in a position to do so or if we’ve been led to believe that self-care is selfish? How do we learn to trust our instincts again so we can lean toward what feels good? And how do we do all of that in a society that tells us productivity is key? On that note, when we look at society’s influence on our decisions, we aren’t even able to differentiate between productivity and activity, and believe me, sometimes it is more productive to take a break and watch some cartoons or to go for a run than it is to continue to fight a computer—or other people.
The answer is: do it anyway. Other people aren’t going to source your happiness for you, only you can do that. So take the time you need to get familiar with what that is, what those needs are, and what that feels like. Those are the feelings you need to cultivate and that is the behavior you are looking for. And the world needs that now more than ever. I will say it over and over again, a million times, in a million ways (perhaps just to remind myself) that anyone who makes you be something your not or makes you sacrifice your boundaries/happiness in favor of theirs is not your person. Relationships aren’t about winning over another or making one person bend to the other’s whims. If your joy is the price of being with someone, even platonically, that price is too high.
The rest of the answer is to stop what you’re doing and learn to differentiate between what you like and what you are told to like. Find what makes you feel good. Does the breeze on your skin make you smile? Does the smell of a book store send shivers down your spine? Does cuddling with an animal make you calmer? Does talking with a friend inspire ideas? THOSE are all signs of joy. Find those things and go do that. Do it over and over again until it feels natural. Then make that part of who you are and integrate it into your routine and make it your identity. Then light up the world!