It was quiet. Too quiet in fact. My daughter tended to silently sneak away and find “things” to create her own artwork. My search led me to my bathroom where I found she had used her own body as a canvas this time. Covered in mascara I had a choice in what I could focus on.
I chose to grab a camera and capture the moment. Did the mess and clean up frustrate me a little? Of course, it did! But I chose not to get stuck in the negative and moved on.
Happiness and joy are interrelated. The dictionary points them to each other when describing the emotion as the result of something good or satisfying. For decades this state of being been studied and pursued.
The Wisdom of Agency
Our ability to choose joy started in the Garden of Eden. Too often Eve gets a bad rap for choosing to partake of the forbidden fruit when she actually was doing us a favor. Satan thought he was tricky convincing Eve to give the fruit a try, but Eve saw the fruit as a step toward wisdom. Opposition empowered her and us to be like God knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5-6)
It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11; see also verse 15).
The blessing of agency, or our ability to make choices, helps us to grow and progress. Opposition gives us alternatives in which to exercise our agency. It is important to recognize not all opposition is a result of choices we’ve made. Life happens, and our choice is often in how we decide to react to the difficult circumstances thrown in our way.
We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust our sails.” – Thomas S. Monson
What is Joy?
Joy is not a reflection of our outward appearance, the achievement of a particular goal, or the accumulation of things; but a driving force deep within bringing purpose and meaning to our life.
It is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to be happy.” Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Having purpose and meaning has been shown to increase overall well-being, and life satisfaction improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency and self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression (Can Seeking Happiness Make People Unhappy, page 807-812). With these benefits, it is easy to understand why we might be stuck searching for the surefire path to happiness and joy.
How to Choose Joy
Choosing joy is more than a mindset, it is a matter of changing our focus.
I’ve worn glasses or contacts for most of my life. Regular visits to the eye doctor are my norm. When the doctor lines the phoropter up in front of me, I’m always amazed at how my focus changes by simply switching the lens.
Similarly, choosing joy is a matter of changing the lens by which our brain views the world. Just like any habit we develop in life, we can train our brain where to focus. By default, our brain looks for what is wrong, what might be a danger or any other negative emotion.
Those negative emotions are okay. They are an important part of the opposition in all things. Allow yourself to identify and experience them, but then move on. Don’t let your brain get stuck on them. Recognizing the negative helps you appreciate the positive even more.
As we retrain our brain we become deliberate about what we are thinking, we build alternate realistic expectations and refocus on what is good in any given situation. Choosing joy is a matter of actively constructing positives instead of passively waiting for good things to happen.