The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.Robert Frost
Why I Couldn’t Experience Joy
There was a point in my life when I couldn’t experience joy.
For example, during a vacation on the coast of Italy with beautiful scenery, food, and people – everything was perfect except for the beauty and joy that couldn’t penetrate me, no matter how hard I tried.
It felt like there was a barrier between me and the world. On this vacation, I could see all of the gorgeous visual cues, sense the warm sun on my skin, taste the delightfulness of the new cuisine.
Yet, if I’m honest, I wasn’t moved by the experience. Rather, I was just observing it.
I recall desperately wanting to feel the exuberance and zest of life coursing through my veins. Especially since I believed that I worked hard for the vacation and deserved every second of it!
Of the 14 days of this vacation, I recall only one moment when I felt a deep sense of joy (that’s a story for another day).
I share my experience because I know some of you can relate.
In working with my clients, I hear a variety of similar sentiments:
“I want to experience more joy.”
“It’s hard for me to experience joy.”
“I feel like I’m not fully enjoying my life.”
And I get it.
I’m going to share with you what prevented me from feeling joy and what’s helped me get to the other side of that block.
Some Thoughts Kill Joy
One of the reasons I was unable to feel joy was because I wasn’t present.
Said in another way – I couldn’t enjoy myself because I was in my head, fully engaged with my thoughts rather than experiencing life with my entire body.
This might sound abstract, but it’s not.
The present moment (now) is the only time when our hearts can be touched and moved by beauty.
When I was absorbed in my thoughts, I was transported out of the present moment into the past or the future with my many “could have,” “would have,” “should have,” or “what if” scenarios playing in my head.
When I was living in my head, I was able to understand beauty, but the beauty bypassed my heart – so I couldn’t feel it.
It’s important to note that not all thoughts kill joy. But there’s a type of thought that’s a surefire way to kill joy – and it’s worrying.
If you can relate to any of this, you’ll be interested in the following as I deconstruct how to worry less and experience more joy.
Worrying Is The Culprit
One of the most common phenomena in our modern life is our inability to stay in the present moment.
Some people struggle more than others. But we all do this.
Some would go so far as to say that our modern life infrastructure depends on the hope that we’re not present. This way, we don’t pay attention to what’s happening to our food system, medical system, and educational system for the benefit of big corporations and to the detriment of the people. This way, we have a reason to continue to make mindless purchases, numb ourselves, and attempt to fill up our feelings of fear and emptiness with the consumption of more goods (but that’s a sharp right turn of a tangent, so let’s come back).
If we want a source to blame for not being present, we can say worrying is the culprit.
Have you noticed that when you’re worrying, you get lost in your mind, become forgetful, lose focus on the task at hand, and usually become anxious and unhappy shortly after?
What Do We Worry About?
We worry about a bunch of different things (as I’m sure you know), but worrying boils down to three common themes:
You compare yourself with your past self, ideal self, or other people.
A sign that comparison is stealing your joy: Your measure of success is based on someone else’s life. “Why am I not as beautiful, successful, charismatic, funny, lucky as her?”
You’re harsh and unforgiving toward yourself (and oftentimes others).
A sign that judgment is stealing your joy: You’re “shoulding” on your joy. “I should have done this.” “I should not have worn that.” “I should have said this.” “I should not have written that.”
You’re in survival mode because you think there’s not enough.
A sign that scarcity is stealing your joy: You think there’s not enough to go around. “There’s not enough for me.” “We can’t both win.” “A good thing doesn’t last.” “I need to acquire as much as I can.” (A perfect example is our recent TP shortage during #quarantine2020).
Why Do We Worry?
No matter what you’re worried about – comparison, judgment, or scarcity – the underlying cause of worry is fear.
Fear is the emotion that we feel when we believe we’re not good enough, we don’t belong, or we’re unsafe.
This is a powerful emotion because it’s primal and it was programmed in us at a very young age as we learned how to survive and make our mark in this world.
How To Stop Worrying?
It’s simple to stop worrying, but not easy.
Step 1: Bring your attention to the present moment
Become aware when fear arises – it’s likely that you’re worrying. Notice when you’re indulging in fear-based thoughts, and gently bring your attention back to the present moment.
Ground yourself in your:
- breath (which only happens in the present)
- senses – what you see, touch, hear, taste, smell
- body – notice what’s going in your body (tension, tightness, tingling, lightness, butterflies, etc.)
Step 2: Go in the direction of love
Once you’re grounded in the present moment, follow in the direction of love.
Meet the energy of worry with the energy of love to transmute it.
Let your inner love direct you because it’s always right.
If it seems abstract again, you’ll see very soon that it’s not.
In Every Moment, You Can Choose Either Love or Fear
To paraphrase Marianne Williamson, with every moment and every choice there are two paths – one of love and one of fear.
Love is anything that makes you feel more connected to your core, your heart, and your soul. There are many different types of love. But the common trait of love is that it makes you feel bigger, brighter, and more expansive.
When we choose fear, we take ourselves out of the present into a false world of darkness, loneliness, and separation – our very own version of hell. Fear always makes us feel smaller, dimmer or constricted.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing inherently wrong with fear. There’s a time and place for fear. It’s a natural response that can save our lives.
The problem is that we’re not meant to be fearful all the time in the natural world. However, in the modern world, we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that there’s a lot more to fear than what’s helpful.
How To Choose Love
In every moment ask yourself – what’s the direction of love? In difficult moments, ask yourself – what’s the tiniest step I can take toward the direction of love?
Maybe it’s to:
- Take a deep breath
- Open the windows
- Show up
- Make that phone call
- Jump in the water
- Bathe in the sunlight
- Take that photo
- Laugh out loud
- Shed those tears
- Pick up that instrument
- Move the body
- Paint that picture
- Decorate that space
- Kiss that person
- Take that chance
- Share that secret
- Adopt that animal
- Plant that tree
- Take a bath
- Drink a green juice
- Share that thought
- Reach out to that person
- Express your perspective
- Meet that person
- Sign up for that course
- Write that story
- Trust the universe
- Tell the truth
Or maybe it’s something else completely. Either way, lean toward what’s calling out to your entire body.
Transmute Fear By Meeting It With Love
When I reflect back on that vacation when I was unable to let joy into my heart, it was because I was worried about:
- Capturing perfect photos that will last a lifetime
- Choosing the best-rated restaurants
- Missing out on activities we hadn’t thought of
- Missing out on must-see locations
- Looking too much like a tourist
- Not appreciating the vacation enough
- Not having enough fun
- Possibilities of rain
- Getting an authentic experience
- Whether it was the right location for our vacation in the first place (would we have more fun at the Galapagos?)
As you can see now, they were all fear-based thoughts. And they were the barriers between me and my experiences.
Fear and worrying were what prevented me from enjoying the moment.
Of course, I still worry from time to time – I’m human after all.
Instead of worrying on my vacation, I now strive to meet my worries with love:
- I put away my phone and soak in the beauty of the sunset
- I savor the beautiful flavors and think about how the nutrients will fuel, repair, and strengthen my body
- I take a moment to feel grateful for the experience
- I pay attention to what’s happening right now and catch witty, funny, beautiful moments
- I do the thing that’s calling out for my heart
- I might consult Google, but my intuition has the final vote
- I embrace and accept how I look, touristy or otherwise
- I look for all the things that are going well
- I let go of expectations and I’m usually surprised and delighted
Love transmutes the energy of fear and transforms our reality.
This was my experience.
Everyone is on their own unique journey. What’s going on for you could be different than what I’ve experienced.
However, if you want to feel more joy, what’s worth exploring is the fear underlying your worries, and then meet it with love.