how to feel JOY BISH

How to Feel Joy

Joy is both the absence of feelings that prevent us from feeling happy, but also the ‘increased capacity to be’ emotion. Here’s how to feel joy.

There are prompts for you to help you to remember and feel joy throughout which are highlighted. They are based on ideas from solution focused therapy and do actually work, so give them a go!

Absence of other feelings

As you will know, dear avid reader of BISH, I’ve written about other feelings too. How to be sad, angry, worried, and feeling shame. What if joy was just the absence of those feelings? It can be difficult to know when this is happening because we are told to look for what is wrong, rather than what is okay, or good. 

So think back to a specific time and place (really specific) when you weren’t feeling ashamed, sad, worried, or angry. What can you remember noticing in your body? Think about different parts of your body, what were you feeling? Can you remember what you could see, hear, touch, smell, feel? What kind of thoughts were you having? What did you make of it? Can you remember what you did? Did this affect your body some more?

If you think back and relive a moment you can start to learn to notice them in the future. You might also like this article about how to feel a bit better.

So, to feel joy we should ignore other feelings?

No, we really should not ignore feelings! As I was saying in all the other advice articles about feelings, we should notice them and feel our feelings. But the point of feeling the feelings is that we make use of them. Feelings arrive because of how we are affected living in the world. Inequality means that some people are more affected by the world in different ways, so it’s harder for some than others. But even then, feelings come and feelings go.

When we notice and make use of a feeling we are acting and doing something. It’s not just about ‘cheering up’, if we’re feeling sad. Or ‘calming down’ if we’re angry. It’s once we’ve recognised the feeling, processed why we’re feeling it, making space for it, and just noticing when we’ve made use of it. 

If you want to, think back to a time when you were feeling sad. Think of when you were last just a bit sad, not super depressed and in a dark place, just bummed out, or fed up. Just try to bring to mind that specific time and place when things started to feel juuuuuuust a little bit not sad. What did you notice in your body? Maybe you felt a bit lighter? Did other people notice anything? What did you do next? This is also what joy is. 

Joy is ‘increasing capacity to be’

That moment coming out of a feeling we’ve been finding tricky is joy. Just when we’re able to: get a glass of water, go outside for a stroll, text a mate, enjoy tasting something, or big belly breaths and relaxing. These things don’t sound big, but they are all happen when we start to feel joy. When our bodies and minds (which are the same thing) are more able to act or think, we’re experiencing joy. Feelings like anger, sadness, shame, and worry, can sometimes just take over and reduce our capacity to act. At that moment when we can start to put that feeling away, that is joy. 

This is why self care is really important but it’s also what people get wrong all the time about self care. If I read one more instagram post about having a bubble bath and watching your favourite movie ….. Self care, as I explain here, isn’t the thing you do, it’s that moment when you start to move towards doing a caring thing. That caring thing can then bring more joy. 

Active joy

So far, the way I’ve been describing joy is the absence of other feelings and those first few flickers of noticing you can ‘be’ a bit more. This is a kind of passive joy which we experience for ourselves, or just micro-moments of joy which could get bigger. Let’s think about how we can experience more active and bigger joy. 

Again, think back to a specific time and place when you really felt a presence of joy (rather than just an absence of a tricky feeling). Again, what did you notice in your body? What kinds of thoughts were you having? Can you remember what you could you see, hear, feel, smell, sense, taste? Did you have an experience of flow, or creativity? How easy did things feel? Can you come up with 5 words to describe that moment? With each word can you tell a story about what was going on? What else could people notice about you? Did you notice anything about them? 

Speaking of 5 words, you could also try this activity to Big Yourself Up.

Joy with others

This definition of joy I’ve been using has been from the 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Spinozan joy is the increased capacity to act (and think). The opposite (sadness) is the decreased capacity to act (and think). His philosophy is also that everything exists in connection to everything else. So for Spinoza, and this website, you’re not experiencing joy if the other person is not. If you try to increase your capacity ‘to be’ you and, as a result, you reduce someone else’s, you have made you both sad. Joy is a win win, and sad is a lose lose.

To make this idea come alive for you, think back to the last time you were having a good time with another person. Maybe you were watching telly, or dancing, or down the park, or playing a computer game, or having sex, or having dinner. Pick a time and a place and really try to bring it to mind super vividly. Relive that memory as if it was happening. Close your eyes if that’ll help. I’ll be right here.

Relive a good time in detail

Going through this good time, what were you noticing about them? What were they noticing about you? How did you respond? What changed in your body? How did they respond to that? What did you notice about that and how did you respond back? Keep doing this and circling back and forwards between you and whoever else was there. What did you notice that told you you were having a good time? If it started getting even better, what else did you notice?

As you think back to that memory, notice what is happening in your body right now. What’s changed? What kind of feelings are you having? Notice any feelings or sensations. Do you feel more able to be you, or to become? Feeling joy? 

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In order to increase our capacity to act as well as someone else’s we need to think about how we increase our freedoms to choose to agree. To feel joy we need consent. As I’ve written about in this book and in several excellent articles here, consent isn’t just getting permission, or a ‘yes means yes no means no’. It’s how we increase everyone’s freedom to be / do / act. 

It’s things like: checking out what we want to do. Using scales. Encouraging each other to tune into their bodies. Finding out information about what something will involve. Collecting our experiences and memories of something to learn about what might work. Starting slow and giving each other or everybody outs or alternatives. Paying attention to our bodies as things emerge. Checking in with everyone about possibly unenjoyment and what we could do to increase joy. A debrief afterwards to share the feelings and the collective ‘being’. Understanding what went well this time and what can be better next time. 

Paying attention to what we could do, and stepping in to think about what else we could do to make it even better, is this increasingly active joy. It’s making joy happen.

Think back to a time when you were last enjoying something with someone or a group of people. What was everyone doing, including people who might not be taking part in the same way as you (eg members of staff at a bowling alley), to make sure everyone could have as good a time as possible? Think of the really tiny things that were happening that made having a good time just that little bit easier. 

Care and joy

In this article about different kinds of love and the different words the ancient Greeks had for them, two words spring to mind. Pragma (caring, supportive, ‘being there’ love) and ludus (fun, playful, silly) love. They both rely on each other. In a similar way, we need consent in order to experience (more) joy. It’s also similar to our autonomous nervous systems, as I explain here

So we need care, and love, kindness, slowness, and gentleness to help us to feel joy too. When we’re all doing this, we can all have a better time. We need this at a really micro level, like hanging out with friends, but we also need it at a global level too. If we are doing things in pursuit of joy which harms the planet, then we and the planet are sad. If society is organised so that small numbers of people have huge amounts of wealth at the expense of most people, then everyone is sad, in this Spinozan sense. Increasing our capacity to act at a global level is key to making sure that can experience joy in our own lives too. 

Enjoy yourself!

So, as joy is sometimes difficult to spot, see if you can try putting some of the advice in this article into practice Over the next few days can you pay attention when you feel able to ‘be’ that little bit more. Also pay attention to what you are doing to help other people do the same and notice how that feels. And see if you can practice bringing a bit more consent into your lives too.

I hope you enjoyed this article!

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I’ve been a sex and relationships educator since 1999 (with a background in youth and community work). In that time I’ve taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. I’ve worked with many charities, local governments, schools and youth organisations facilitating training and workshops. My two books, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and If You Want To) and Can We Talk About Consent? are widely available around the world. I’m also a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Justin Hancock

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