If Joy Is a Choice … How Can We Make It Stick?
“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”
~ Joseph Campbell
Joy is always a subject I like to write about. Recently I’ve found joy in listening to anything by Tara Brach, so it’s fitting that I should start this newsletter about joy with Tara Brach’s description. She describes joy as the aliveness and openness that occurs when we let ourselves be available to the whole play of existence. It’s a natural capacity, it’s in our wiring, and it can be cultivated.
Joy comes from a habit of thinking and interacts closely with our biochemistry. I explored this in a recent article on Thrive Global.
We sustain a joy “set point” based on what we think about and focus on. Deepak Chopra explains that when you activate a positive belief, your cells get the message.
One way to cultivate joy is through gratitude. Studies have shown that gratitude changes the body-mind chemistry. So when you have an experience and you feel good because of that experience, take time and allow yourself to feel good; pause and let it sink in. To use the language of technology: install it.
Rick Hanson suggests that we try to take in the good and make it stick. He explains that in order to create the trait , we must make it “stickier.” Taking that time to pause gives joy (or any experience) this stickiness. He explains:
“Scientists believe that your brain has a built-in negativity bias. In other words, as we evolved over millions of years, dodging sticks and chasing carrots, it was a lot more important to notice, react to, and remember sticks than it was for carrots. That’s because, in the tough environments in which our ancestors lived, if they missed out on a carrot, they usually had a shot at another one later on. But if they failed to avoid a stick, a predator, a natural hazard, or aggression from others of their species—Wham, no more chances to pass on their genes.
“The negativity bias shows up in lots of ways. For example, studies have found that:
- In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.
- People will work much harder to avoid losing $100 than they will work to gain the same amount of money.
- Painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones.”
In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. That shades implicit memory—your underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood—in an increasingly negative direction.”
You can read more about this and watch Tara Brach’s wonderful meditation about Joy on my latest blog post.