Fighting for Joy

The opposite of joy would seem to be depression. And in certain metrics it would be so. But I have come to believe that just as often, the opposite of joy is cynicism. 

I have a healthy cynicism in regards to many things: People who are always happy. Love at first sight. Many social media gurus. Sometimes social media itself. A large percentage of organized religion. Certain things will always bring out the cynic in me, and I am glad of that. But like many things, it can be overdone. Sometimes I think I am a cynic for too long in regards to too many things.

To be frank, I am that way with reason. I’ve not had the best of luck when it comes to friendships, romance, business, or employment. I’ve had no mentors, and virtually no help of any kind throughout my life to get anything important off the ground. Read back over this blog to learn more about that sort of thing. Yet I think that my justified cynicism has sometimes leaked into other areas of my daily life and affected same in ways that are not always healthy.

Allergy sufferers know what histamines are. They are natural and vital compounds in the body which fight off what the body believes are harmful invaders. In the case of an allergy though, histamines go apeshit and overcompensate; they flood the system in defense against something that otherwise would pose little threat. Our own body’s medicine then becomes our enemy. The result? Swollen, watery eyes. Runny nose. Cough. Rash, etc. To feel better, we take anti-histamines. Drugs designed to actually fight our own body’s fighters. Part of our own defenses end up working against us and have to be tamed. My cynicism sometimes acts like an overzealous histamine. It seeks to defend the joyous but ends up overrunning it.

By joy I do not mean the breath taking, life changing peak experiences of which we all have maybe a half-dozen in life. Nor do I mean that joy has to be about skipping through the meadows. I refer to the best parts of any given week in the life. Or those few elevated moments each day where the fact that you have the day outweighs everything you have to deal with on said day.

Please don’t misunderstand. I do feel that kind of joy. Certain activities bring it. The company of certain individuals does so as well. Sometimes even reading an article or listening to music can bring me the simple joy to which I am referring. So I am not a stranger to the idea. Yet I have determined it is time for it to be a more frequent part of my life. But how?

I have talked to “joyful” people as well as read their writings. I ask them what it is that allows them to experience joy as often as they do. Many answer, “I just choose to. I can decide to be unhappy, or decide to be happy. I choose happy.

In most cases, I believe people when they say that. (Though my cynicism is standing in the doorway peering in whenever I hear that advice.) It is not for me, however. As much as I, and anyone would like to believe that joy is a simple matter of deciding, the reality is that for many people who are Too XYZ like myself, it will always be more than a simple choice.

No, I need that spiritual anti-histamine. Something(s) that will counteract the excess cynicism, but leave the useful, healthy, and appropriate cynicism intact. It sounds like an irony, but I may have to fight for more joy. Yet the fact that it may require more effort and time doesn’t make joy any less important, does it?

Staying away from people who piss me off. Refusing to find ways to tolerate people that have been intolerable for years. Striving to make new joyful friends. Thinning out my Facebook friends list. Reading success stories of people outside of my own field. Having an element of inspiration show up in some of my fiction. Even the simple act of responding to something with silence. All of these things, and more, are weapons in the fight for joy that I have been collecting. More needs to be done, and given who I am I may never reach the levels of joy some of you posses. (I know some incredibly happy people.) But the effort is worth it. Perhaps the effort itself will bring more joy?

How do you bring joy into your life? Any suggestions?


  1. This is something that you could explore with a skilled therapist. I have found it useful for shrugging off ways of responding that are no longer helpful.

  2. I really understand this quest for joy. I know it is ironic to find yourself having to go to battle to defend the right to it but sometimes we must. There are so many joy suckers afoot we need to take care to protect it or it can be stolen or extinguished. Private message sent your way to share more private thoughts on this subject. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Anonymous

    This past weekend, I attended a relatives' wedding in NYC. I stayed at my parents' house, and there are few people as skilled as sucking joy out of you than they are. I tried to minimize my interaction with them as much as I could.

    I don't have much joy either, but I am not always blue. I do try to keep myself occupied. After mostly reading non-fiction, I have started a damn good espionage novel. I limit how much news I follow. Enough to be informed, but not overloading on it so that every minor matter becomes “breaking news”.

    Too many of my days end with the thought, “OK, I got through the day, and nothing bad happened.”

    And while I would not use the term joy, doing an hour on the tread mill while listening to Metallica or De La Soul on the Ipod can be exhausting, in a good way.

    – KXB

  4. Finding joy is like finding love – when you look for it, that's when you can't find it.

    Stop looking. Stop fighting. Best way to do that? Bring joy to someone else. Forget about yourself, focus on someone else.

    Find someone in your life that is reasonably close to you. Do something that makes their life better. DO NOT expect anything in return. DO NOT expect instant joy.

    You won't believe the impact that has. It will push the cynicism out of your life.

  5. Heather- I have thought about that, though I don't think I am ready for that step just yet.

    Keet-There are indeed many joy suckers that abound, are there not?

    KXB-You make a good point about about avoiding the news. That can be a serious handicap to one's daily joy. I have to admit I don't avoid it as much as I probably should, but I am proud to report that I only watch it about half as often as I used to. Especially local news, where murder is 85% of the coverage.

  6. Marc- That is a nice theory, and I am sure it works for some people, but as I said in the post, not for me. A certain degree of fighting and labor is in fact required for certain personalities to obtain the joy they deserve.

    Not that it is a bad idea to try to share joy with other people. I am in favor of that. We should try to increase the joy in other people's lives when and if we can. It is a noble endeavor. But beyond a point we must tend to our own joy first if we are expected to serve others.

    It is sort of like an endothermic vs. exothermic sort of thing. Some can create their joy from the outside working in, and others have to find a way to create it from within so they can spread it outwards. I am probably the latter.

  7. Ty – it isn't theory. We don't do it because we should do it, or because its noble. Do it because it will pull you out of a funk. Selflessness does that a hell of a lot better than selfishness. Find your role on this planet and in society.

    When you were talking about all of the various things that that make you cynical, they all share the same selfishness.

    Dismissing service out of hand before trying it is an excellent way to ensure you are right. But I got news for you – wallowing in your self-absorption isn't going to do much for you either. The answer isn't in your navel.

  8. Marc, if you think this post is about either naval gazing or self-absorption you have clearly misunderstood everything I have said.

    As I mentioned, service to others is an important part of being human. But if someone finds that service in and of itself is not sufficient to “pull them out of a funk” as you say, then they have a need, a responsibility even, to take other measures to bring about their own joy and contentment. We cannot, as I said, be of service to anyone else in the world, if we are not on some level serving and taking care of ourselves.

    I think it is problematic to prescribe to all people exactly one method for the attainment of joy when clearly your method is not applicable to everyone. Neither is mine. I have declared already I am a minority, but that makes my approach to joy no less legitimate.

    It just so happens that service to others, while rewarding and the right thing to do, does not provide me with joy on a frequent enough basis in its own right. If fighting for joy and looking inward brings me greater peace, I am not about to abandon that. Especially when the end product is someone that can be of more service to others.

    We must love ourselves and treat ourselves with compassion first.

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