Joy takes realizing what separates us from it. When something triggers our anxiety, the instinctive reaction is to freak out and ruminate about the stress and dwell in our existential pain and mope around feeling sorry for ourselves. Buddha famously called this the second arrow. In life, we cannot always control the first arrow, he said. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.
It reminds me of the first few times I experienced panic attacks during work. My awareness of and relationship to joy wasn’t completely developed. And so I felt helpless to take responsibility for what was going on inside my head. There was nothing to override my brain’s natural negativity bias. But as my inner journey evolved, I discovered that joy was a skill. Joy was a choice, not a chance. And because it had a different biological signature than anxiety, that meant I could use it as a tool to cannibalize the panic.
Singing, for example, is an experience guaranteed to provide me with joy. Especially when it comes to '80s pop songs. That’s why I keep a playlist on my phone for such an occasion. Should the waves of anxiety come crashing in, I know exactly which songs to play in order to marshal an effective joy response and allow the weather patterns of panic to come and go. Works every time.
Remember: Let us not hold back from trusting and experiencing joy. We ask these questions, and people might point and whisper and stare, but at least our anxiety won’t get the best of us.
Want more ideas for how to bring more joy into your life? Here are 40 ways to practice it every single day.