Often as psychotherapists we look to the emotions that distress us, the ones that we wish were not present. We explore the impact that these emotions have on us and how we can manage them better in our lives.

Balance is the goal for any of us regarding emotion and how we can move between the range and scale of feeling that we encounter in our lives. Joy is one of these crucial sentiments. It’s presence and awareness of it’s presence, is a step towards this balance.

What is joy? Is it hard to define? In many ways it appears to be the direct opposite to sadness; and perhaps it is easier to recognise if it is compared to what it is not. It is a very powerful feeling and is important to recognise that it, like all other emotions, is fleeting. No emotions stay the same within us. There is movement in and out of emotion, based on what is happening around us and on our experiences growing up; which prime us for certain instinctual reactions to situations we meet in life.

Joy to me, is the deep appreciation of the wonder of life. It, like all other emotions has a physical element and can be felt in the body. It’s reference is deep contentment and a sense where everything fits. For me, nature is the key display of joy. Birdsong celebrates life and the seasons allow the flow and cycle to be experienced:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
The one who has flung herself out of the grass,
The one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
Who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
Who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated
Now she lifts her pale forearm and thoroughly washes her
Now she snaps her wingspan, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
Into the grass, how to kneel down into the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the field,
Which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else would I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

Can we allow ourselves to feel joy? In my practice I meet many people who fear recognition of joy as they are not certain it can be trusted, it engenders anxiety…is it a ruse, a temptress which will make the fall even greater?

For me, the development of an awareness that life moves through different emotions, that in a day we may experience a vast range of feelings, is the first step in allowing those we want in, as it necessitates allowing those we don’t want into our experiences also. If we truly know that life grants us a kaleidscope then we are better able to embrace that which we are feeling whilst also knowing that it will not stay the same.

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