It has been a long rough year, and at this point it doesn’t seem like it’s going to end anytime soon. This upcoming holiday season is rife with the possibility of disappointments, uncertainty and fear, but does it have to be that way? Do we really have no other choice? The irony is that, even though it may be hard to see, we do have a choice; we can choose joy despite everything else that’s going on. It’s important to realize that our most enduring emotional states are not dependent on external events or circumstances, but on what we choose to focus on and nurture internally.
As human beings, we’re hard wired for survival far more than happiness. Our minds naturally pay more attention to what is wrong or fearful than to what is right or joyful. So when many things in life feel threatening, it can be easy to slip into a negative state of mind. Joy can seem less and less attainable, especially if we overlook the simple things that once brought us joy and keep our focus and attention on the perceived threat. If we don’t listen to holiday music because of the threat of spending the holidays alone, we miss the opportunity for the music to bring us joy. If we stop doing positive things for ourselves because of external circumstances, then we can’t find joy in our own kindness and compassion. We need to continue to engage in joyful experiences no matter what is going on externally. Even if there doesn’t seem to be any joy in this moment, we can create positive internal experiences through memories, gratitude, and feeling joyful for others’ positive experiences.
When was the last time you felt exuberant joy? What did that feel like in your body? What thoughts were brought up by the experience? What actions accompanied the joy? By immersing ourselves in a memory or visualization of joy, we can activate the same parts of the brain as if the experience were happening in this moment. We really can “choose” joy.
Nurturing joy and other positive emotions are not only imperative to protect our current emotional health, but it is necessary to build the resilience we all need as we move forward into an uncertain future.
Doty Collins, LCSW, has worked in different areas of the social work field since 2006. She has experience working with substance abuse and addictions, dual diagnosis, depression, anxiety and PTSD. She has also been trained in alternative and complementary chronic pain treatments, as well as brief therapy techniques. She works in the Pocatello Health West Clinic at 1000 N. Eighth Ave.