In previous posts, I’ve talked about those who have amputated anger from their emotional vocabulary. Often, they have had a childhood where anger was considered an inappropriate emotion or where their anger had no scope to exist because the child had to deal with the anger (or often wrath) of one of his or her parents. That parental anger took up all the space and didn’t allow the child to express their own sentiments. Later, the child learns to either be as explosive as the wrathful parent, or they learn how to subsume that anger as a survival tool – my anger will only illicit the parents overwhelming anger so best not to allow that emotion.
Similarly, joy can be amputated from someone’s emotional vocabulary. This lack of joy can come about from medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or major depression. In fact, lack of joy is often an insidious sign of major depression. It’s a symptom people may perceive before they actually realize they are depressed. Lack of joy is often the first sign of depression. Clinical depression can evolve from chronic, unrelenting stress over long periods of time. That stress changes the brain.
For some, a pessimistic childhood environment could squelch joy. In other cases, some people may have learned that joy is fleeting and should not be grasped too tightly because it’s a fleeting state that is just a precursor or set up for disappointment. In this pessimistic environment, joy should be avoided because it just going to lead to greater pain later.
Whether the lack of joy is induced by depression or a lack of early acceptance of the emotion in childhood, some interventions are the same. Beyond appropriate medical intervention (either through psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two), working to experience joy is something that is worth the investment. Just as those who have amputated anger from their emotional vocabulary have to dig in and really explore their anger, those who are not experiencing joy need to do the same.
Finding those things that used to give them joy and trying to find it again is a difficult but valuable starting point. Finding ways to laugh. Finding things to smile at. Once you catch yourself smiling or laughing, replay that moment. Dig into that fleeting moment of happiness. Try to catch it and understand it. Double down on those moments. The exercise might seem simplistic and maybe even foolish. But just as those who don’t fully feel anger have to explore that emotion, deconstruct it’s true sources, and tap into ways it can constructively instruct their lives; the same goes for those that need to explore their joy. What about a joyful moment makes it joyful? What needs does it address? What passions does it ignite?
The goal is to create a positive feedback loop. Find things that have the potential to create joy. Swim in that emotion. Deconstruct it. Find more ways to get it. Rinse and repeat as a start.