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Why Joy Can Be Your Enemy

Why Joy Can Be Your Enemy

    In previous posts, I discussed why the so-called “negative” emotions of anger, shame, sadness, and fear are actually good friends and guides. In this post, I am going to close the loop on this project by outlining why joy, a “positive” emotion, can be your enemy.

    How can this be? How can joy cause trouble? What’s wrong with feeling good?

    Well, nothing, of course. Except that the pursuit of joy (and the fear of losing joy) can distract us from creating long-term happiness and fulfillment. And it can even bring about circumstances that cause tremendous suffering.

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    But how does this happen?

    In one of two ways: Attachment and Distraction.

    How is attachment a problem?

    Attachment can be a problem when it clouds your judgment, preventing you from making the right choices (for you) in the hopes of getting or keeping something that you think will bring you joy.

    I’m sure you’ve known people who have quit their jobs and moved away from their friends and families to a new city in order to stay together with a boyfriend/girlfriend, only to find themselves dumped and far from home when what they really needed to do is accept that other person is moving away and get on with life. Attachment to that other person, wanting to get or keep the Joy that comes from being with the other person, brought that on. Similarly, people can get attached to ideas, places and objects, and let this attachment prevent them from making wise decisions.

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    We can also get attached to the results of our actions and create trouble for ourselves and others. How many times have we told ourselves the following:

    “I’ll be happy when I get rich/get married/have kids/get a promotion/get a better house…”

    Staying so focused on the payoff prevents us from enjoying the journey, and in extreme circumstances it can lead to problems brought on by unethical behavior. Whether it’s fudging taxes, covering up problems at work, lying to your spouse to keep the peace, all of them can bring serious consequences crashing down upon you…simply because you wanted the joy associated with the payoff.

    Joy can be a distraction

    It can be — and it may be a harmless one, like procrastinating with Facebook or playing video games instead of taking action on something that would bring achievement and fulfillment.

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    Starting that big project at work can be hard. Same with fixing up your house, training for a 5K or writing a book, but those things can be incredibly rewarding (much more so than playing Angry Birds). But playing Angry Birds can provide the distraction of fun and joy.

    Right now that prevents you from ever going down those paths.

    Taken to the extreme, distraction becomes addiction. You drink/take drugs/gamble because it feels better than facing some challenge. No one becomes an addict because they honestly want the lifestyle and rewards — they do it because it feels good (initially at least), and it brings joy to have a drink or a hit or another card. If it didn’t feel good — at least in the moment — no one would do it.

    But we do…because people find joy in distraction and they can’t tear themselves away from it long enough to take care of themselves.

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    In closing

    Joy can lead to attraction and be a distraction. We get attached to another person or object, or to a certain result, and this can lead to bad decisions. Similarly, we can use momentary Joy to distract us from taking on more difficult challenges that would ultimately prove more fulfilling. Such distractions can prove devastating in the case of addictions. Joy is important, of course — I don’t think we could live without it for long.

    But like the other “negative” emotions mentioned above, we need to keep it in its proper perspective.

    (Photo credit: Boxing Punching Bag on Red via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on December 2, 2018

    How to Flow Your Way to a More Productive Life

    How to Flow Your Way to a More Productive Life

    Ebb and flow. Contraction and expansion. Highs and lows. It’s all about the cycles of life.

    The entire course of our life follows this up and down pattern of more and then less. Our days flow this way, each following a pattern of more energy, then less energy, more creativity and periods of greater focus bookended by moments of low energy when we cringe at the thought of one more meeting, one more call, one more sentence.

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    The key is in understanding how to use the cycles of ebb and flow to our advantage. The ability to harness these fluctuations, understand how they affect our productivity and mood and then apply that knowledge as a tool to improve our lives is a valuable strategy that few individuals or corporations have mastered.

    Here are a few simple steps to start using this strategy today:

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    Review Your Past Flow

    Take just a few minutes to look back at how your days and weeks have been unfolding. What time of the day are you the most focused? Do you prefer to be more social at certain times of the day? Do you have difficulty concentrating after lunch or are you energized? Are there days when you can’t seem to sit still at your desk and others when you could work on the same project for hours?

    Do you see a pattern starting to emerge? Eventually you will discover a sort of map or schedule that charts your individual productivity levels during a given day or week.  That’s the first step. You’ll use this information to plan your days going forward.

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    Schedule According to Your Flow Pattern

    Look at the types of things you do each day…each week. What can you move around so that it’s a better fit for you? Can you suggest to your team that you schedule meetings for late morning if you can’t stand to be social first thing? Can you schedule detailed project work or highly creative tasks, like writing or designing when you are best able to focus? How about making sales calls or client meetings on days when you are the most social and leaving billing or reports until another time when you are able to close your door and do repetitive tasks.

    Keep in mind that everyone is different and some things are out of our control. Do what you can. You might be surprised at just how flexible clients and managers can be when they understand that improving your productivity will result in better outcomes for them.

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    Account for Big Picture Fluctuations

    Look at the bigger picture. Consider what happens during different months or times during the year. Think about what is going on in the other parts of your life. When is the best time for you to take on a new project, role or responsibility? Take into account other commitments that zap your energy. Do you have a sick parent, a spouse who travels all the time or young children who demand all of your available time and energy?

    We all know people who ignore all of this advice and yet seem to prosper and achieve wonderful success anyway, but they are usually the exception, not the rule. For most of us, this habitual tendency to force our bodies and our brains into patterns of working that undermine our productivity result in achieving less than desired results and adding more stress to our already overburdened lives.

    Why not follow the ebb and flow of your life instead of fighting against it?

      Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

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