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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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    Dave Kaiser

    An Executive Coach who helps people make better use of their time, from productivity to living their life's mission.

    A New Year’s Resolution Worksheet That Will Make Your Resolutions Stick Want Life to Be Easy? Get a System! Why Joy Can Be Your Enemy Why You Need to Give It Away What Not to do to Get More Done

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    Last Updated on December 2, 2019

    10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

    10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

    Plato knew that the body and mind are intimately linked. And in the late 1800s, the Mayo brothers, famous physicians, estimated that over half of all hospital beds are filled with people suffering from frustration, anxiety, worry and despair. Causes of worry are everywhere, in our relationships and our jobs, so it’s key we find ways to take charge of the stress.

    In his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers tools to ditch excessive worrying that help you make a worry-free environment for your private and professional life.

    These are the top 10 tips to grab worry by the horns and wrestle it to the ground:

    1. Make Your Decision and Never Look Back

    Have you ever made a decision in life only to second-guess it afterwards? Of course you have! It’s hard not to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing and whether there might still be time to take another path.

    But keep this in mind: you’ve already made your decision, so act decisively on it and dismiss all your anxiety about it.

    Don’t stop to hesitate, to reconsider, or to retrace your steps. Once you’ve chosen a course of action, stick to it and never waver.

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    2. Live for Today, Package Things up in “Day-Tight Compartments”

    You know that feeling: tossing, turning and worrying over something that happened or something that might, well into the wee hours. To avoid this pointless worrying, you need “day-tight compartments”. Much as a ship has different watertight compartments, your own “day-tight” ones are a way to limit your attention to the present day.

    The rule is simple: whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future must not intrude upon today. Everything else has to wait its turn for tomorrow’s box or stay stuck in the past.

    3. Embrace the Worst-Case Scenario and Strategize to Offset It

    If you’re worried about something, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Could you lose your job? Be jailed? Get killed?

    Whatever the “worst” might be, it’s probably not so world-ending. You could probably even bounce back from it!

    If, for example, you lose your job, you could always find another. Once you accept the worst-case scenario and get thinking about contingency plans, you’ll feel calmer.

    4. Put a Lid on Your Worrying

    Sometimes we stress endlessly about negative experiences when just walking away from them would serve us far better.

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    To make squashing that worry easier, try this strategy, straight from stock traders: it’s called the “stop-loss” order, where shares are bought at a certain price, and then their price development is observed. If things go badly and the share price hits a certain point, they are sold off immediately. This stops the loss from increasing further.

    In the same manner, you can put a stop-loss order on things that cause you stress and grief.

    5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It – Happiness, That Is

    We can’t directly influence how we feel, but we can nudge ourselves to change through how we think and act.

    If you’re feeling sad or low, slap a big grin on your face and whistle a chipper tune. You’ll find it impossible to be blue when acting cheerful. But you don’t necessarily need to act outwardly happy; you can simply think happier thoughts instead.

    Marcus Aurelius summed it up aptly:

    “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

    6. Give for the Joy of Giving

    When we perform acts of kindness, we often do so with the expectation of gratitude. But harboring such expectations will probably leave you disappointed.

    One person well aware of this fact was the lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Over the course of his career, Leibowitz saved 78 people from going to the electric chair. Guess how many thanked him? None.

    So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself.

    7. Dump Envy – Enjoy Being Uniquely You

    Your genes are completely unique. Even if someone had the same parents as you, the likelihood of someone identical to you being born is just one in 300,000 billion.

    Despite this amazing fact, many of us long to be someone else, thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But living your life this way is pointless. Embrace your uniqueness and get comfortable with who you really are: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

    8. Haters Will Hate — It Just Means You’re Doing It Right

    When you’re criticized, it often means you’re accomplishing something noteworthy. In fact, let’s take it a step further and consider this: the more you’re criticized, the more influential and important a person you likely are.

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    So the next time somebody talks you down, don’t let it get to you. Take it as a compliment!

    9. Chill Out! Learn to Rest Before You Get Tired

    Scientists agree that emotions are the most common cause of fatigue. And it works the other way around, too: fatigue produces more worries and negative emotions.

    It should be clear, therefore, that you’ve got to relax regularly before you feel tired. Otherwise, worries and fatigue will accumulate on top of each other.

    It’s impossible to worry when you are relaxed, and regular rest helps you maintain your ability to work effectively.

    10. Get Organized and Enjoy Your Work

    There are few greater sources of misery in life than having to work, day in, day out, in a job you despise. It would make sense then that you shouldn’t pick a job you hate, or even just dislike doing.

    But say you already have a job. How can you make it more enjoyable and worry-free? One way is to stay organized: a desk full of unanswered mails and memos is sure to breed worries.

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    Better yet, rethink about the job you’re doing: What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

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    Featured photo credit: Tyler Nix via unsplash.com

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