Heart Of The Matter

Make room for joy in life

To reclaim the joy you experienced as a child, recognise that you have the inner resources to cope with anxiety too

Sonali Gupta
First Published10 Jul 2024, 07:30 AM IST
We can choose and possibly increase our capacity to experience joy. Image: iSTOCKPHOTO
We can choose and possibly increase our capacity to experience joy. Image: iSTOCKPHOTO

A 37-year-old male client tells me that he sometimes wonders if he’s forgotten what joy feels like. “I saw a movie this weekend with my daughter, and there was a dialogue that made me realise that with age, my experiences of joy and happiness seem to be fewer and I barely recollect moments when I felt joy. Inside Out 2 was hard hitting and a reminder that I have lost my capacity for joy.” 

This is a theme that often makes it to therapy sessions. In fact, very often when clients in therapy are experiencing joyous moments or sessions where all that they talk about is how things have been good and life has been going well, towards the end of the session they start getting anxious that maybe something will come up that will make them sad. 

It’s strange but it’s something all of us can relate to. Even when we are experiencing joy, anxiety slips in. Children, on the other hand, have this capacity to savour and find numerous moments when they are in awe, wonder and joy. I remember a client telling me that what she grew up hearing over and over as a child has impacted how she perceives joy as an adult. Her grandmother would say “if you laugh too much, or talk about your joy, something sad or bad will happen soon enough so learn not to show all that you feel”. 

Also read: ‘I am bored’ need not make parents recoil in horror

It made me wonder whether our idea of joy has been shaped by conditioning, or being told not talk about it or not being allowed to enjoy ourselves. What does it take for us to reclaim joy, awe and wonder in our day-to-day lives? Often I remind myself that as adults and emerging adults, we can choose and possibly increase our capacity to experience joy. Choosing to remember this is the key, which can be hard given how complex our adult life is. 

For me, personal moments of joy are when I feel a certain lightness and a sense of being fully present. At the same time, it is difficult to describe that feeling and put it into words. As I often say, joy is felt deeply yet so hard to convey to others. I often associate it with a sense of contentment, deep presence, gratitude for what’s around and an all-encompassing sense of compassion. Those moments feel like peak experiences, when one is in sync with oneself yet feels a deep sense of connection with everything and everyone around. 

In therapy, I ask clients to describe their personal experiences of joy. While our emotional states, including happiness, awe and surprise, can look and feel similar to joy, an awareness of how these show up for us in terms of feelings, sensations and behaviours allows us to savour them and cultivate an attitude of mindfulness about our emotions. At an individual level, clients have talked about experiencing immense joy at the birth of a child, while spending time in nature, having a spiritual experience, or on the completion of a creative project.

Also read: Don’t let work anxiety spill over into family time

 We can experience joy at an individual as well as a collective level. For instance, India winning the T20 World Cup final is collective joy. So many friends and clients talked about this collective joy. Some people got emotitional while talking about the win because of the intensity of what they were feeling. A huge part of embracing joy in adulthood lies in the recognition that given the twists and turns that come with life, we need to make space for both joy and anxiety.

At the same time, recognise that when we experience joy, we can give ourselves permission to enjoy it and trust that when difficulties arise or anxiety makes its presence felt, we will have the inner resources to cope with it. So, make room for joy in your life and if you can, allow yourself to park your anxiety for the time being. 

Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali

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First Published:10 Jul 2024, 07:30 AM IST
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