Joy doesn’t seem to be something that is discussed very often these days. We hear plenty about negative states such as stress, anxiety and depression, and we also hear quite a bit about more positive states, such as pleasure and the pursuit of happiness, but joy – both as a word and as a concept – seems to have become fairly unfashionable. This is unfortunate, because the state of joy is quite different to both pleasure and happiness, and it is arguably a lot more desirable.
Pleasure is a momentary and often fleeting emotion based on wholly external factors, such as being able to enjoy a good book in silence, eating a delicious meal or having sex with a partner. Happiness is more often associated with achieving an end goal of some kind, such as successfully beating a performance target at work, or reaching a desired bodyweight target after investing weeks or months of effort at the gym.
There is nothing wrong with either of these states, but they are not usually possible to sustain without interruption. The pleasure of sex begins to dwindle at the point of orgasm, especially for men, and the pleasure of fine dining can soon turn into discomfort when one’s appetite has been sated. Similarly, the state of happiness experienced when one achieves a certain goal can fade rather quickly, making it desirable to set out in the pursuit of another goal so that the ‘buzz’ of happiness can be experienced again.
Joy, in comparison, is something that can be experienced quite consistently over an extended period of time, and is not dependent on external circumstances. It is a state of contentment and satisfaction that is found within the present moment, and can be cultivated by anyone.
There are many ways to cultivate joy in life, but one of the most effective is to develop the habit of finding joy in whatever activity you happen to be doing right now. If you can find joy in activities which will also give you happiness from time to time, then so much the better.
Consider the Seeker who would like to write a novel, for example. Most people would view the actual writing as little more than something that needs to be done before the novel can be published, at which point they assume that they would experience pleasure and happiness. The Seeker, on the other hand, would put publication out of his or her mind for the time being, and focus instead on enjoying the process of putting words on paper. Not only would that here-and-now focus make the writing process one that gives joy in and of itself, but it is also likely to help the Seeker to write a better novel as well.
The same principle can be applied to virtually anything. Seek joy in the process of creating, rather than in what your creation might help you to achieve. For example, instead of viewing your gym visits or exercise sessions as little more than means to an end, you can focus on enjoying each visit or session as its own reward. Rather than working hard just so that you can improve your chances of getting a pay rise or a promotion, you can focus on cultivating joy by performing each task you take on – no matter how simple or complex – to the best of your ability.
You are a creative being, so it is easiest to find joy in tasks which are in some way creative. Fortunately, almost everything that you do as a human being can be viewed as creative if you choose to do so, and that means you can find joy in every moment. Even the simple act of sitting and taking a coffee break can bring you joy if you focus on sitting and enjoying your coffee to the best of your ability, rather than allowing your mind to drift off into the future, past or to some completely different place.
Instead of fixating on pursuing the happiness that comes from achieving specific outcomes, try focusing on finding joy in the actual process of pursuing those outcomes. Find joy in the cooking of each meal, in the time you spend on the treadmill, in the washing of your car, and so on. By doing this, you will fill your daily life with a rich sense of inner joy, your sense of general wellbeing and contentment will increase, and you will still get to experience any happiness gained through the achievement of your goals as a welcome bonus.
The joy of creating your life from moment to moment is one that can be developed in any and every situation, so start where you are right now. Live today with joy by doing whatever needs to be done for its own sake, and to the best of your ability, and you may well find that this is an enlightened and empowering approach to life that you may also want to adopt in the weeks, months and years to come.