Therapy

Rejoining Joy: Ways of Living

By Dr. Gerald Young
Created Jan 17 2011 – 11:48am

Sally felt empty, feeling others were not listening to her. John felt lost and depressed, feeling he could never be happy. Stan felt he had no future, despite getting good marks. Terri was worried about her relationship. Jim was angry at things not going his way. These are the kinds of stories that people tell me in my office. Part of my therapeutic approach is to help them tell different stories, by using the concepts of rejoining joy and adopting appropriate ways of living.

By Dr. Gerald Young
Created Jan 17 2011 – 11:48am

Sally felt empty, feeling others were not listening to her. John felt lost and depressed, feeling he could never be happy. Stan felt he had no future, despite getting good marks. Terri was worried about her relationship. Jim was angry at things not going his way. These are the kinds of stories that people tell me in my office. Part of my therapeutic approach is to help them tell different stories, by using the concepts of rejoining joy and adopting appropriate ways of living.

All of us are deeply psychological beings. We live complex lives and try to find the best ways of living well our lives. However, our daily experiences might be too difficult for us to handle and bring us stress, or, our past might be filled with lingering difficulties that bring us stress. Also, for any of multiple reasons, we might have developed bad habits that get in the way of our important goals, best values, and good habits. Further, there are biological vulnerabilities to consider, for example, caused by injuries, accidents, illness, and other impacts on our physical health. Finally, we might be doing quite well, but members of our family, or other people important in our lives, might be experiencing difficulties that affect us.

In a certain sense, none of us are ever free from daily stress or from living each day as a challenge. Part of the stress and challenge that we face might be a question of our perception – things might not be as difficult as we perceive them. Whatever the source, many of our stresses require our best effort to confront them and require good coping skills. Some of us succeed well this way much of the time, and others less so. It is impossible to stay at the top of our game throughout each day. Inevitably, there are downs, or even deep feelings of being overwhelmed or having too many problems and losses. However, the stresses that we face, even if they are crises and dangers, can be confronted successfully and our ability to deal with them can be improved.

As we confront and deal with past and present stresses, or those in the offing, many forces could tax us or put strain on both our personal coping mechanisms and our system of supports. Stress can drag us down, can have us “act out” to relieve it, and can push us toward bad habits that we are trying to resist. In all these senses, it is impossible to reach a state of pure joy and stay at that level. Moreover, wanting to live continually in such a state is not a helpful goal. Rather, it is more important to strive to be on the right path to joy, even if we cannot be there continuously.

But how can this goal of being on the right path be achieved? I maintain that true joy and efforts to rejoin it involve the goal of wanting to grow constantly in a psychological sense – living this goal of wanting to grow psychologically is the ultimate joy. In addition, we need to understand that stress could be a growing experience, and should not be something to avoid at all costs. When we experience rupture of being on top of the world, this does not mean that rapture automatically ends, because it could prepare for rejoining joy.  In this sense, life should be considered as the constant living of rejoining joy, rather than a seeking of living in constant joy. Each time we pass through bad times and resist bad habits, we broaden ourselves and build ourselves. 

Moreover, the ability to rejoin joy is facilitated by having the correct attitude and knowledge. When we experience a deeper understanding of what is joy and how to get there, we can arrive at the path leading to rejoining joy both easier and for longer. Having a deeper understanding of joy and the pathway to it means having the right values, habits, and helping behavior in place. When we live solely for ourselves and for immediate pleasures, we become continuously frustrated. In contrast, by increasingly opening our minds and giving of ourselves, both joy and being on the right path to joy become more possible. Getting on the path to joy requires us to develop both healthy and respectful ways of living and good habits in our daily lives. Our roles, responsibilities, caring behavior, actions, thoughts, and feelings all need to be in synchrony. Also, keeping on the right path to joy requires us to learn how to control bad habits and other interferences. By engaging in ways of living filled with hope for the best for ourselves and for others, both joy and getting on the pathway to it are optimized. This is our human task, and once we adopt this vision, stress is easier to handle and rejoining joy is easier to achieve. Finding and rejoining joy means going beyond it and going beyond ourselves.

You might be wondering how could you implement this strategy into your way of living and make any major shift in your approach to yourself and the world.  At our core, there are positive behaviors, habits, goals, and values that define ourselves. To be sure, they are buffeted by external stresses, bad habits, and wrong messages from others, from the media, and so on. However, we all have it in us to become the being that we want, or at least to get on the path to that person. At each moment in our lives, we can have positive options that we choose, instead of having negative ones choose for us.

In future columns, I will suggest ways of rejoining joy and improving ways of living. At times, I will refer to the scientific literature, including my own publications [www.asapil.org], or my self-help book series [rejoining joy.com]. Often, I will discuss sayings I have written or add new ones, such as those in bold in this essay. Looking forward to communicating with you.

 

Gerald Young, Ph.D.

Gerald Young is a professor of psychology at York University. He is also editor-in-chief of the journal Psychological Injury and Law. He is also working on two additional books for Springer: a graduate-level text on rehabilitation, psychological injury, and law, as well as a book on the causes and determinants of behavior.

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