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  • Matthew Emerson

The Cultivation of Joy

Sparking a Lasting Change


We live in a cynical society. A depressed one at that. Take a look at some of the most popular comedians, and their humor is colored by skepticism and darkness. It is the tint of the glasses through which most of us view the world. This is a very easy view to take. The evils of this world beckon us to simply accept them as is. It's "just the way the world is" we say to ourselves as some sort of defeated comfort. We bounce around at a few islands of happiness. A good concert, a well-made dessert, a party with friends. It's all fleeting in the end. No amount of happiness seems capable of dispelling the horrors of the world we're in. That's because happiness is not the answer.


Happiness, as currently used among our culture, is a terrible word. This pursuit of happiness that clever marketing has doomed us to provides no fulfillment. There is always more to be gained, or a tragedy far greater than whatever happy feeling we achieve. That's the core of the issue. Happiness is a feeling which comes and goes as it pleases. I wish to offer an alternative to this endless chase after happiness:. Joy. Joy is to be distinguished from happiness in the sense that happiness is a feeling, while joy is a choice. Let me explain.


Happiness is such a powerful cultural addiction that cosmetic agengies can use a smiling model to sell skin creams. Buy our stuff, then you'll be happy.

Chasing after happiness means being enslaved to a feeling. A semi-random chemical reaction that makes you fuzzy for a bit. I am not decrying happiness. I don't want everyone to be miserable; I am simply saying that endless happiness is not sustainable. Joy, on the other hand, is a quality that can be cultivated. Joy can be defined as the choice to remain hopeful regardless of present circumstance. It's remaining positive despite the shadows cast by the present situation. Joy is essentially the result of the Christian virtue of hope. How can we put this into practice in our daily lives? I'll try to provide two ways.


There is a psychological school of thought known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In a nutshell, the basic premise is that our thoughts effect our behavior. Bad thoughts produce bad behavior. One of the major tenets of CBT (and several other psychological schools, they tend to overlap) is that our perspective/thought about something can be more hurtful than the something itself.


A simple CBT method can provide us with an effective way to cultivate joy in our lives, and reduce our endless hunt for endorphins. This method is known as a "disputing intervention." It's a rather simple tactic. Those of us who struggle with negative self-talk can attest at how easily it takes away joy. Those awful thoughts regularly creep into our mind's awareness. Grab a piece of paper, and write down the most common negative thoughts that appear, and then write the converse. The next time a negative thought appears, quickly challenge it with the opposite thought.


The other recommendation that I have is linked to the first. Just as negative thoughts can lead to bad behavior, good behavior can impact our mind. This behavior I am going to recommend is related to what are known as "natural goods." These are the things that pull us back to ourselves. Some natural goods include:


-Being intentional while eating a good piece of chocolate.

-Having a glass of wine after dinner with friends or family.

-Taking a slow walk in the park.

-Reading a book in your favorite chair during the evening hours.


Natural goods are just that. Natural. They aren't augmented or produced from over-indulgence in alcohol, drugs, or fake things. They are grounded in reality, and produce a sense of satisfaction for the present, not a desire for something better in the future.


These things, while simple, when done intentionally do wonders for our mental state. What makes them so good, is they force us to slow down. To take in what is immediately in front of us. To be grateful for what we have in the present moment. Nothing before, nothing after. The practice of joy is remaining constantly aware that there is more to life than the bad situation you find yourself in. It's remaining hopeful that things will get better, and if they don't, that you have power over your perspective on the moment.


Combining these two practices can help us cultivate joy, and take away that anxiety that is caused from chasing after happiness. So stop asking, "what will make me happy?" Start saying, "I choose to be joyful." A simple smile whenever you're feeling bad is all it takes to start choosing joy.


Smile more, laugh more, live more.


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