Some folks define joy as the feeling of accomplishing a goal or checking the last task off a list. For others, joy is a feeling that arises when they smell baked goods or buy something shiny. Perhaps for you, joy is the act of creating something wonderful and new.
For a long time, I defined joy as the refreshing feeling of freedom without any pressing responsibilities. If you’re well acquainted with life, then you’ve realized, as I have - Time away from responsibility is fleeting and short… Assuming we find it at all. And joy is always just over the horizon.
That’s the trouble with circumstantial joy… It requires precise, often unpredictable circumstances to occur.
Just as circumstances are hard to predict, the thoughts we experience when they occur can be hard to predict - Those thoughts create feelings and those feelings are hard to change.
Talk about clusterfuck. The complexity of the unknown - our minds, our emotions, and the twisted game they play together, quickly make lasting change a hell of a hurdle.
But what if I put to you that thoughts can change before we even have them.
And by directing our thoughts in that way, we can direct our feelings to the kind of feelings we want - very nearly unhindered by circumstance.
Oh good! So this means I’ll never be unhappy again? Of course not. Frankly, at any given moment throughout the day, the Universe may throw a situation at you that results in an unhappy response. Unhappiness exists to teach you how to approach all kinds of situations with grace and peace of heart.
The more you study manifestation, magic, and mindfulness, among other metaphysical concepts, the sooner you will realize, as I did, that what you spend your mental energy on tends to be what you bring about in your life. When life is full of stressors and traumas, pressing needs and unfulfilled desires, it’s very easy to start focusing on that unhappiness and inadvertently bring more of it into your life. In other words:
Your perception of reality often dictates your reality.
So, what if I told you that you can create a natural state of happiness upon which everything else exists? That when unhappiness hits, it doesn’t throw you for a loop and ruin your week? That happiness could be your new natural state?
Let’s step back for a sec, and look at the mechanics of the mind. In our minds exist both our conscious and subconscious. The conscious mind is the cute grad student sitting in front of you in lecture hall, making it very hard to concentrate on your monotone English professor. That is, everything that we are aware of in the moment, like a thought as it is occurring, or speech as it is happening.
The subconscious (sometimes called the unconscious) is the big dog that scared the crap out of you as a two year old and and while you don’t remember the incident, you just don’t like dogs as an adult. The subconscious is responsible for learning from experiences, for social and familial programming, for keeping all the data we need to make accurate assumptions, quick decisions, or life-saving choices. It is our cultural programming, hidden memories, old experiences, and unidentified feelings, all of which influence our present thoughts and actions.
It's here, in the hidden recesses of the mind - the subconscious - that our thoughts are born and bubble up to the surface of our conscious mind.
Problem is, the subconscious and the conscious don’t really speak the same language. Your subconscious can take credit for every epiphany you’ve ever had. You can thank your subconscious for the gut feeling to not walk down that dark alley behind your apartment building…. But the subconscious doesn’t really understand context.
Your awesome, powerful subconscious is home to good, valuable information that helps you to live a full and successful life and avoid danger… But don’t even try to get your subconscious to connect the dots in any kind of logical manner, because your subconscious doesn’t think linearly. *A* doesn’t necessarily lead to *B* (at least at first glance) and past, present, or future context is, frankly, completely foreign to your subconscious.
The value of all experiences is subject to context.
Your conscious mind, on the other hand, is a context genius. In fact, it is a BOSS at linear thinking. It helps you interact and connect with people, animals, and objects, decipher what your eyes are seeing, connect two concepts to one another, solve a technical problem, and pretty much anything else that deals with presence of mind. Without your conscious, you would be a vegetable and you would not understand... well, anything.
Your conscious loves context and will, in fact, invent its own context if it doesn’t have enough information or doesn’t like said information. And when it is missing that context, it will rely on your subconscious experiences to fill in the blanks.
Unfortunately, because our subconscious doesn't hang onto context, that data isn't always appropriate for the given situation where you need to be making conscious choices.
Your subconscious can create thoughts that are not actually accurate, even though they FEEL accurate in your gut.
This data collection doesn't happen in a vacuum. These parts of the mind are constantly communicating, interpreting... and miscommunicating with themselves. Problem is, when 12 year old you exclaimed, “OMG That dog in that yard scared me so badly just then,” your subconscious was, like, “All dogs, much unhappy.”
And you were left with residual uneasiness about dogs for the rest of your life, even if you don’t remember that specific incident years later. Imagine the kind of impact a constantly critical parent or teacher might have had. Imagine if your subconscious believed them.
In turn, the deepest parts of your subconscious are, right this second, communicating with your conscious mind, influencing your feelings about the very words you are reading on this screen.
While deciding to become a hermit and live off the land for the rest of your life is certainly an option, most of us are going to have to deal with this regular, necessary recycling of past experiences and programming if we want to have healthy, happy lives that involve other living beings. Over the course of life, both helpful and unhelpful suggestions will try to seep in and take root in a person’s subconscious… Often served up by our own damn self! Sometimes all you need to do is recognize a pollutant, the leftover remnants of a suggestion or experience from long ago, and decide it's no longer true or helpful for you. Then the issue dissipates on its own merely because you became consciously aware of it. Sometimes, it takes removing or distancing yourself from the source of the poison altogether (in the case of a critical friend, for example). You may even need the help of an expert, like a therapist or hypnotist. And that's OK. There are still daily actions you can take to make major strides in your internal dialogue.
Start actively building yourself up
One of the best ways to counter challenging thoughts is to create your own internal support system.
Affirm yourself every morning. Try telling yourself something like, "I am becoming a better, healthier, wiser person every day."
Keep a gratitude journal. Even if it's short and all you can muster is one tiny thing to be grateful for, that tiny thing is a powerful cue for your mind. With practice, it will be increasingly easier to see all there is in life to be grateful for.
Every time you catch yourself having a harsh thought about yourself, gently make a correction and follow it up with something kind about yourself instead. Try something like, "No, self. That's not true. I do my best with the resources that I have."
Create a sense of integrity. Acknowledge that you are almost always working off of incomplete context and that your subconscious experiences are likely influencing your perception in any given moment. Be honest about what you are feeling versus what you actually know for certain.
Build others up too
When we start looking for the good in other people, we train our brains to look for the good in all kinds of other areas of life.
Give thoughtful, genuine compliments whenever you can. Recognize that your success doesn't hinge on someone else's downfall. Nor is their success a reflection of your perceived failure. We all win when we support each other.
When someone is thoughtful towards you, tell them that you appreciate it.
Give people the benefit of the doubt if they have shown you they have generally good character. Remember that other people are influenced by their subconscious as well, and they may not have all the information they need to accurately judge the situation.
Remember, what we put into our minds reflects what comes out. Eventually, you’ll find that countering negativity becomes habit, and you won’t need to be mindful of these strategies as frequently. Your thoughts will support you, rather than vice versa. And when you get to that point, you’ll know it.