The formula to bring more joy in your life is super simple. Here it is.

Move away from things that cause you distaste and do more things that bring you joy.

How is that for some mind-blowing insight? As you can see, you don’t need a PhD to figure this out.

So why do we find ourselves lacking joy? My guess is that we are not honest enough with ourselves. What are our likes and dislikes? Again, I ask you … What brings you joy? Sit with that question for a while and then begin writing. The act of writing should bring you closer to authenticity. It certainly has helped me and has helped many of my clients. As a therapist this is one of the biggest pitfalls my clients fall into. Often we find ourselves faking being someone we are not. Perhaps these are the do-it-all women that fake happy marriages or the executives that seemingly have it all together leading their team but end the day with a bottle of booze. What a horrible way to go through life. Honestly, I can’t think of something much worse than this.

Think about it. When we behave in a certain way that causes a pulling away from ourselves, rather than a pushing towards, we are not being our authentic self. This is what I meant by ‘causing a distaste’. You may not even realize how much of a pulling away this is for you. Later on, next week, I am going to tell you how I discovered something about myself that caused me a lot of ‘pulling away’, and I ignored it for years. I was trying to ignore it and push through it, rather than be authentic and face the truth.

I was having a conversation with a potential guest for my podcast (sort of an interview before the recorded interview) and he noted the same. He said that for years… he felt somewhat ashamed for being optimistic. (Can you imagine? Being ashamed that you are positive in nature?) The guest tends to always see ‘the bright side of life’. What some others view as ‘toxic positivity’. Then, one day he woke up and realized ‘I don’t need to apologize for this anymore!’ This is who he is – and no one has the right to call him down for it. It is a strength of his, yet there must have been a belief that had been instilled in him that told him it is not normal or natural or right to always be happy. This could have been caused by a parent who is highly irritable and angry at life, or it could be a ‘friend’ or ‘partner ‘who constantly made him believe it is wrong to feel what you feel. I use quotations because anyone telling you not to be authentic is neither a friend nor partner in life.

Move away from things that cause you distaste and do more things that bring you joy.

via @luellajonk

So, it seems then, there are parts of us that we admire and perhaps proud of, and then there are other parts that we do not particularly care for… Have you ever wondered why? Why don’t you like this characteristic about yourself? After all, there is no one description of the ideal human being, is there? I don’t know who that person would be…do you? Sure, we could all likely describe that ideal person in our mind – but that is YOUR perception of the ideal person and similarly, a perspective of how the world and your environment SHOULD be. This reminds me of what one might be searching for in a soulmate, and I am quite sure that your version is different from mine. So who is right and who is wrong?

The answer is neither because that is just our perspective, our culture and grooming of the mind. That is our belief. I want you to start challenging these beliefs more. Are these truths or lies that you have been telling yourself? If you like this about yourself, then continue to believe it and celebrate and reward yourself. If you don’t, then start being honest and behaving differently to feel differently. A feeling that may bring you more joy in life.

Now, back to the question of why you might not like these character traits? The most likely reason is that your experiences shaped you in believing not to celebrate that trait, characteristic or behaviour. Research in child development has demonstrated self-programming (thoughts, habits and beliefs) are established prior to the age of 7. This is why the Jesuits say, “give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” Realize as well, this trait CAN be very culturally based.

That Jesuit quote is the formula/program/protocol for how we think, feel, and behave throughout our lives. Some of it is genetic, but most of it is through learned behaviour. The behaviour was either modelled to us or taught to us in another form, perhaps from the words we heard spoken around us. If I was raised by a tribe of Ugandans, I doubt that I would have an obsession for peanut butter sandwiches, which happened to be a staple in my elementary school lunches. I would also have completely different religious beliefs, fears, needs and desires. My habit formation would be like those of other Ugandans. According to the current society I live in, my behaviours (tendencies and habits) would be viewed as good, bad or neutral.

James Clear, the writer of Atomic Habits, also states similar propositions in his book. He suggests if we really want to study our habits, we should write out our routines and behaviours and then rate good, bad, or neutral. The point being that if we want to get rid of the bad, we need to dissect what reward we are getting by doing a behaviour which is considered bad. He provides all different suggestions as to how to minimize or undo the patterning that was established attached to the behaviour we once felt rewarding (but now somewhat despise). The easiest example that comes to mind is smoking. I haven’t met one smoker who loves the idea of identifying themselves as a smoker, but despite this, continue to smoke. Thus smoking is a great example of a behavior once viewed as desirable and a somewhat sexy behaviour, to now very undesirable due to societal influences. 

There are many many other more subtle examples of what society or your culture (friend culture, family culture, religious or work culture) is telling you what is right and what is wrong, and if we follow someone’s else’s beliefs  we often feel a lack of joy and deserving of punishment. Smoking is a clear example of how societal pressure plus scientific research shifted our way of viewing this behaviour. The use of seatbelts and bicycle helmets are other examples of how society shifted our beliefs towards a behaviour. 

However, there are other practices that we do daily which make us feel unhappy which are not based in science, but we do it largely from cultural and societal pressure. Deep down inside ourselves, we feel pulled to do it – or not do it, but the push against it is so strong. Yet we ignore it. We ignore the fact it will bring us more joy because our experiences have groomed us to believe otherwise. This is what I mean about challenging yourself and STOP doing the behaviours that you believe you SHOULD  be doing – while still being law-abiding citizens. 

I will give you a personal example  regarding my own thoughts – it was a thought that kept pulling me away from my authenticity. It is a thought I need to stop believing and seek forgiveness towards myself for thinking this crazy notion, that is highly culturally based. It came to me in a gobsmacking sort of way. This is the realization I made…

Yes, a cliff-hanger indeed. ☺ Meet you here next week.