This time on the podcast we talked about an emotion that doesn’t get much coverage: joy.
In wider culture there’s often a sense that it’s only okay to experience and express ‘positive’ emotions like happiness and joy (although we don’t spend a lot of time thinking critically about these feelings). That’s why when people ask how we are the default response is often something like ‘good’, ‘fine’ or ‘mustn’t grumble’.
In communities which question wider culture we can swing the other way, focusing on the more difficult feelings we’re experiencing – especially when we’ve been marginalised and/or traumatised due to our being outside the mainstream. If somebody asks how we are me might focus on the difficult stuff that’s going on.
We’re certainly not arguing here for trying to ‘think positive’ or to pretend to be happy (or any other emotional state) when that’s not actually where we’re at. This problematic approach in the self-help industry, business, media, and elsewhere is responsible for people treating themselves non-consensually, seeing themselves as flawed if they can’t be continuously happy, and doing often damaging emotional labour.
However, the approach of staying with feelings (our own and other people’s) which we’re big fans of definitely required the capacity to stay with joy as much as sadness, anger, fear, and other emotions. As the movie Inside Out demonstrates – casing out or denying any of our emotional states isn’t good for us: it can mean that the other emotions take over, or eventually that all the emotions become less available to us, and that our inner world can be damaged.
Perhaps we have a responsibility to ourselves and to others to acknowledge joy when it is happening. Certainly in a conversation where one person is feeling joy or delight at the moment it would be problematic if they were not able to share that as much as the people who are feeling sadness, fear, anger, et.
We can often struggle with joy in ourselves because we feel we don’t deserve it, because of guilt around all the people who don’t – or can’t – experience it due to social injustice for example, and because of ‘cherophobia’ (the belief that when you are happy something bad will happen soon). We can struggle with joy in others because of comparison and competition: it can feed that capitalist feeling that we’re doing something wrong if we don’t feel joyful like that.
Politically and collectively though we could see joy as an important emotion in invigorating us and prompting us to action to share joy and to work to increase others’ capacity for joy. Spiritually Buddhist and other philosophies emphasise the importance of joy and humour for lightening up, finding perspective, not getting too stuck in our own individual experience and making such a big deal out of things.
How can we shift to a position of allowing, inviting, and embracing joy in ourselves and others? On the podcast we talk about permission to notice the micro moments of joy in life, which are actually often more vivid during times when we’re struggling or mostly feeling quite tough. It’s worth noticing what gives you a flicker of joy or delight day to day: sharing a smile with a stranger, a song you love playing on the radio, a flower growing through the cracks in the pavement, spotting a fox on your way home at night, receiving a kind comment. Can you allow a moment to feel that joy when it’s there? Similarly can you invite a friend to say more about how they’re feeling when they acknowledge happiness, joy, excitement, or delight. We might tune in to how we – or they – feel in their body. How they know what that feeling is. What other times in their life it reminds them of. What other things give them that feeling.
Sharing those kinds of moments in the form of words or pictures on social media can be a good way to connect through joy, again so long as we’re not curating an image where it looks like that’s all we experience for others to compare against. Keeping memories of joy in the form of words, pictures, or objects can also be good to return to.
© Meg-John Barker and Justin Hancock, 2019