Detach from what causes you pain and attach to what brings you joy.

Detaching from what causes you pain and attaching to what brings you joy sounds incredibly straightforward and almost absurd to write about, yet for most people it can be amazingly difficult.

First of all, one must do a fairly fearless inventory to discern what actually brings you joy in the first place and what engenders pain. This may also sound obvious, but it isn’t. How often do you stay in situations that are unsatisfying at best, and hurtful at worst? You don’t stay in them because you’re a masochist. You keep going back to those people or situations because they are familiar. Despite evidence to the contrary you may think there is still a chance to get what you want, even though haven’t yet received it, or haven’t reliably gotten it. It’s easy to believe the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know, even though that always assumes that the next thing you choose is going to be negative.

A good way to begin a self-inquiry process is to think about a day in your life; it could be a week day, perhaps with work, or a weekend. Ask yourself:

How am I typically spending my time?

Who is with me, or am I alone?

Am I enjoying this experience?

Is it something I do frequently?

If I’m not enjoying it, what’s keeping me at it?

Is there something I might prefer to do?

Am I afraid if I don’t do this I will be alone?

What if I am alone? What would that mean?

After you’ve explored your answers, examine what’s keeping you in any situations that don’t really bring you joy.

Is it fear of change?

Is it fear of the unknown?

Is it concern people will reject you if you don’t do what they want?

Is it fear of setting boundaries with other people?

Is it fear of being alone?

I mention fear of being alone twice because it is a major concern for a vast majority of people. How many people don’t set boundaries and go along to get along, because they’re scared of being rejected? I’m sure almost everyone has been unassertive at times, and going along to get along.

As you can see, it’s not so easy to choose joy. It takes guts. As they say: No guts no glory. You have to be willing to face your demons. Those demons might come in the form of what Albert Ellis used to call love slobbism, the notion that we must be loved or approved of by every significant person in our life, and if we’re not it’s horrible, terrible, awful, and we can’t stand it. That leads to poor boundary setting with other people and putting oneself at the bottom of the list. Clearly not a way to increase your joy.

Fear of being alone is a very real issue for most people as it’s a skill not well taught in our society. The good news is that, just like any other muscle, it can be strengthened. You might actually find that you love your own company. If you don’t, that’s a whole other kettle of fish that therapy can help.

Probing one’s deepest self, whether it’s your desires, what really brings you joy and what doesn’t, is only as useful as the changes you make with that new knowledge. If you simply have the insight and don’t take it to the next level by acting on that awareness, it’s just an intellectual exercise.

Change is always scary. You don’t know what’s at the end of the new road. But not changing can feel like a slow death.

Luckily, change doesn’t have to happen overnight. It can happen in the smallest increments you can handle. In feng shui, there’s a practice that involves moving 27 things in your house. You can simply move a book from one spot to another on the same table it doesn’t have to be anything major. Merely moving 27 things shifts the energy of your space as well as your perception of it and allows other changes to follow. Similarly, doing one thing differently, like meditating using the Insight Timer app for five minutes a day, can make an enormous difference over time. It’s not only helpful for its obvious benefits but it also subtlety teaches you that you can change, and it doesn’t have to be painful or scary. It can be enlightening and exciting. After all, what’s more exciting than seeing your own potential?

It takes guts to choose joy, especially when that joy involves change, and it almost always does.

Choose you! Choose joy! Nobody knows why we humans are on this earth. Why not maximize your pleasure? I’m not suggesting you do it at the expense of anyone else’s, but there are myriad ways to enhance your enjoyment of life. Get to know yourself. Act on that knowledge. Experiment. Be curious and try new things. Pay attention to any time you seem happy, peaceful, or content. What are you doing? Keep a joy journal. Simply write down in a very succinct way, or simply list, the things that reliably bring you joy. Over months and years you will notice the same things bring you happiness. Maybe it’s being with people, or taking more time for solitary pleasure. Maybe it’s learning something new. It could be a physical activity. For some, it might be exploring your spirituality. You could volunteer your time to a worthy cause. If you put a little effort into this inquiry you will discover what truly brings you happiness. Then you can do those things more frequently.

Discovering who you are and what you want is not only good for you, but it’s good for everyone else on earth. How does that work? Well, the happier you are the more joy you can spread. In addition, you can be congruent and authentic which is a fantastic example for others to follow. It gives them a cosmic permission slip to be their true selves.

If happiness is love, then finding out what you really love in life will bring you happiness. It could be feeling part of a group, deeply knowing another person, immersing yourself in nature, or anything else. Victor Frankel, in his famous book: Man’s Search For Meaning, believed finding meaning in life, in your own unique way, brings true joy. 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang 

Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.