By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple ideas that you can use to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing every day, based on quality research.
This is Episode 93 and this week I’m talking about joy.
In this episode I’ll cover what joy is, why joy matters and how to embrace joy for the sake of your mental health. So, let’s talk about mental health!
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the full transcript.
Watch Episode 31 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV — in this latest episode I’m talking about why antidepressants are not the answer to mental health issues (not on their own, at least).
Watch it below or visit the channel on YouTube:
This podcast episode was originally released on 22 August, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 93, and thanks so much for joining me!
This week I’m talking about joy. Last week I dealt with a pretty tough topic — and a huge thanks to all of you who reached out to me with positive feedback about that topic, because I was second-guessing my choice for a little while there! So I thought this week it might be best to explore something a little bit lighter and more joyful… and what could be more joyful to talk about than joy?! Because it’s one of the nicest feelings that we get to experience sometimes and even though it’s a fleeting emotion, which all emotions are, there’s a lot to be said about the simple joys of life and the positive effect they can have on your mental health and wellbeing… so that’s what I’m exploring today.
Before I get started, have you watched the latest episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV over on YouTube? Because this week I’m talking about why antidepressants are not the answer to magically curing mental health issues, and how to approach your wellbeing in a more well-rounded way than simply hoping that popping a pill will do the trick. You can watch it now on YouTube or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you’ll find it on the front page, and it’s also available on IGTV, and if you like what you see then please hit like and subscribe to the channel because it helps me to grow on YouTube and enables other people to have my content suggested for them. You’ll find the link to the latest video in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on.
So, with that covered, on with this week’s episode about joy…
When I first started going out clubbing at the age of 17 (and we’ll just overlook the fact that I was using fake ID to get me into places that you needed to be 18 or older for) there was a song called Joy by Staxx that was massive at the time. It’s one of those early-to-mid-90’s bangers that had about three lines repeated over and over (actually it has a couple more than that, but you know what I mean), but the main lyric is “I will bring you joy.” Which I never really thought about much until I became a little older; really, it’s a lovely idea of someone bringing you joy but the thing with joy is that it’s an inside job. People, places and situations can contribute to your happiness, but taking that and feeling the joy requires you to process all of that internally and transform it into joyfulness. Which is effectively my manifesto for this entire episode: there are lots of things that can contribute towards your joy, but only you can decide whether or not to feel joy.
So before we get too deep and philosophical about joy, let’s begin with some definitions and talk about…
What is joy?
Joy is all about great pleasure and happiness. It feels gleeful, exhilarating, blissful and, most of all, immensely enjoyable.
Now what causes joy isn’t a particularly simple question to answer, because it can be felt when something major happens in your life (such as a big life event for you or a loved one) or it might be something relatively small, like having a blissful time sitting out in the sunshine after a long cold winter (which is what I was doing when I was writing this episode!). Or it could be something that has happened in your life that connects to a broader goal or idea of life that you have; for example, we just got chickens last week which we’ve been wanting to do for a while now and it’s another step towards turning our backyard into a productive and enjoyable space for us, and so we’ve been sitting out and enjoying watching the chickens get settled in to their new home which has been such a nice feeling to enjoy.
Now, of course, I made the point a little earlier that happiness is an inside job (which is something I discussed back in Episode 61 about, funnily enough, happiness) and that might raise the question why am I talking about these external things as being joyful? And the answer is: they are things that I am joyful about, because as lovely as the chickens are they really don’t care if they live here or somewhere else… so it’s not the chickens that make me joyful, but my reaction to the chickens (and I seem to be spending a LOT of time talking about those chickens this episode, so you can clearly see how excited I am about them!).
When we feel joyful, your brain floods your body with dopamine and serotonin — and if that sounds familiar, it’s because some substances like drugs or alcohol can mimic or trigger that feeling which is why they often become addictive, however the ‘high’ will rarely last and it can take more and more each time to achieve the same sensation (if at all); you might have heard of drug addicts chasing the feeling of that first high which remains more and more elusive the more they use. And, by the way, if you or anyone you know is dealing with addiction or is concerned about it, please check out Episode 34 which is all about — you guessed it! — addiction. So I’m sharing all of that because it’s about understanding that there’s a need to be mindful about joyful sensations derived from external things because good mental health — sustainable mental health — involves making healthy choices. And I’ll come back to that a bit more in the how-to section.
First, let’s talk about…
Why does joy matter?
And it matters because if you want to feel more joyful in a healthy way then you need to understand where it comes from and how it manifests for you so that you can make the most of it when it happens. Because moments of joy are never permanent — but then again, neither are moments of sadness, because nothing lasts forever. Even the darkest and most powerful storm eventually fades so that the sunshine can return.
Learning how to embrace joy matters because studies have shown that positive emotions help to decrease stress, increase life satisfaction and build your emotional strength. In other words, learning how to embrace joy can help you to lead a happier life… and a big part of that is about learning how to find joy in the smaller things rather than holding out in hope of big life-changing events; for example, there’s a good reason why a lot of lottery winners often find that their initial happiness fades quite quickly, and that’s because we human beings tend to adjust very quickly to our new circumstances (which is kind-of surprising when you consider how resistant we are to change!). Let’s talk about a different example, although this one is still partially related to finances (which is often a big one, especially since there’s that ongoing debate about whether or not money can buy happiness). So I want to share a brief quote by a British organisation called CABA, and the quote is:
“When people evaluate their income or education, they generally measure it against the locally prevailing norm. This may explain why overall increases in income and education have had little effect on the overall happiness of the population (in Australia, Britain, Germany and the United States, average happiness has failed to rise since records began, despite massive increases in living standards…”Source: CABA [UK] (https://www.caba.org.uk/help-and-guides/information/happiness-depends-mental-health)
And the link for that is in the transcript. So the point here is that even earning more or having a higher standard of education is no guarantee of greater happiness and joy in life because we just compare ourselves to where we live rather than the world as a whole. And continuing on from that point, with another quote from the same article, I’d like you to think about this piece regarding emotional health in children; the quote is:
“The strongest factor predicting a happy adult life is not children’s qualifications but their emotional health…”Source: CABA [UK] (https://www.caba.org.uk/help-and-guides/information/happiness-depends-mental-health)
And again, you’ll find the article linked in the transcript. I shared that because I want to ask you this question: how much time did you spend as a child, and now as an adult, focusing on your emotional health? Is it as much time as you’ve spent on your qualifications or doing what you need to do to get by in your job? Because many of us are guilty of investing a massive amount of time and energy into these things that are not actually the main drivers of our happiness — and then we wonder why we feel a bit shit sometimes (or a lot of the time, depending on your situation).
Joy, in terms of when it comes from within yourself, is about being at peace with the way things are even when they might not be the way you would wish for them to be. It’s about being content with your life and focusing on the things that you feel grateful for, and it’s about being kind to yourself and cultivating positive thinking. It’s about finding things that you feel excited about and fulfilled by so that you can feel greater satisfaction with who you are and what you do, and if that feels like a challenge at the moment then it’s about working out what will make you feel more satisfied and then taking small steps every day to create the future that you want.
And at this point you might be thinking, “Yes, Jeremy, that’s all well and good… but how do I do that?” — and if that’s what you’re thinking then you’re in luck, because it’s time to get into the how-to part of this week’s episode; so let’s talk about…
How to embrace joy for the sake of your mental health
And my first point is a big one which is embrace life in all of its many shades and moods — because life is a great big complicated mess, and embracing that fact helps you to make the most of the good times when they do happen and also to see the not-so-good times for what they are; a learning opportunity and a chance to grow. Tough times never last forever; eventually, all storms fade from view and from memory.
Next, choose to focus on joy — and what I mean by that is that when shitty things happen you can either choose to focus on the negative or you can pivot your attention towards the opportunities being presented to you even in challenging times. For example, when writing this episode I had just discovered earlier that morning that our lockdown had been extended by another week at least (for context, it’s only been a week so far where I live, which is nothing compared to what people in Melbourne and Sydney have had to contend with; we have a major outbreak of Delta in this country, I think at this point Sydney is up to week 852 of lockdown and residents of Melbourne are so used to being locked in their homes that they now fear the sky and open spaces… sending lots of positivity to my listeners in those cities and everywhere affected by lockdowns thanks to the spread of the Delta variant). Anyway, I had a choice: I could focus on the negative, or I could choose to redirect my attention towards the positive, which is what I chose to do. Because as challenging as lockdown is and having to juggle things around because of the change in circumstances, it means another week of extra time with my partner (we’ve been having lunch together out in the garden every day, which has been really nice) and also since it’s late winter/early spring here, that means I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to take my laptop outside and do work — which is spectacular and it feels really joyful, especially after being cooped up inside for months on end thanks to a pretty miserable winter! So my point is that if you choose to redirect your attention towards those small joys, you begin to see more to be joyful about… it’s like a circle of love! Speaking of small joys, my next point is…
Embrace small joys every day — there is a wonderful expression in French, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard of before, and it is joie de vivre which translates quite literally as the joy of living and it’s the foundation of the way that many people in France choose to celebrate the small joys in life, such as by savouring a really good meal (I mean, they’ve turned eating into an art form and don’t even get me started on their cheese). When you turn even seemingly-small things into a joyful occasion, you transform the ordinary and mundane into something that serves to remind you how wonderful life truly is… so go ahead, eat the cheese! All things in moderation! Actually, speaking of moderation, my next point is…
Find balance — because life is all about balance. Since joy is not something that can ever last permanently (because if it did, it would just become mundane and boring), that means that when it does come it’s something to be observed and savoured. Balance is to be found in all aspects of life — day and night, light and dark, life and death, joy and sorrow — and without one we cannot truly recognise and appreciate the other. There are entire philosophical belief systems that have been built around the idea of balance; the yin and yang of Taoism, the Middle Way of Buddhism to name just two; whatever you believe, choose to spend time understanding the notion of balance and consider how you can incorporate it into your life every day. I’ve actually talked about balance twice here on the podcast; I discussed balance in general in Episode 14 and then I dug deeper and explored the idea of finding balance in Episode 49, so check those out for more on the subject. You’ll find audio and full transcripts for every episode on the website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes (and of course every episode I’ve ever released is available to listen to on your favourite podcast service like Spotify, Apple Podcasts and more). Moving on, my next point is…
Consider your life choices carefully — and I say this in the nicest possible way but the choices you make are what shape your life, so choose wisely! Because often we chase things (or people) because we think they will bring us joy, but even if they do bring you some happiness that’s not going to last forever — and so when it fades, what happens next? If we’re reliant on external sources to get our fix of happiness and then that no longer does the trick, that’s when we start looking for new things to fill the void. And the only way of actually filling the void is to do so yourself. That’s something you do through focusing on growth (which I talked about back in Episode 37) and by building a strong sense of self-worth (which I discussed in Episode 78); so, I’d suggest checking out those episodes and also taking some time to reflect on where you are now in terms of your life choices — without judgement — so that you can identify what’s working well and what you might need to change in order to bring your focus back to the things that are within your direct control, like happiness. I talked about reflection in Episode 12 and control in Episode 48, so those episodes might be helpful as well.
Next, know that it’s never going to be happy happy joy joy 100% of the time — and yes, that was a Ren & Stimpy reference for anyone old enough to remember them! This is a big part of that realistic optimism thing I talked about back in Episode 47 and it’s about recognising that life is like a rollercoaster; sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, and sometimes you get thrown about so much that you lose your lunch. Knowing that fact anchors you in reality and allows you to see the tough times (and even the times that are just a bit ‘meh!’) as just part of the journey.
Next, smile — because even just the simple act of smiling can elevate your mood; yes, even a fake smile! According to Healthline, smiling “can trick your brain by elevating your mood, lowering your heart rate, and reducing your stress. The smile doesn’t have to be based on real emotion because faking it works as well.” And you’ll find the link for that article in the transcript (find it here: https://www.healthline.com/health/affects-of-joy#Wondering-if-you-can-actually-trick-your-body-into-feeling-happy?). And one thing that can help you to smile more is my next point, which is…
Focus on the positives and cultivate an optimistic mindset — because what you look for is what you see, so when you focus on the positives you will tend to find more to feel positively about. I talked about positivity in Episode 90 and mindset in Episode 31, and as I said a couple of points ago I also discussed optimism in Episode 47, so check those out for more specific advice on those aspects of better mental health. My next point is…
Let go — and this is one I talk about a lot here on Let’s Talk About Mental Health (and I covered letting go in Episode 32) and I do so because when we hold on to past hurts and old anger, all it does is eat away at us and rob us of our happiness. That doesn’t mean that you have to forgive people for doing harm to you (which I talked about in Episode 44) but instead what it means is that you can find healthy ways to release all that pain so that you can move forward, because that is what allows you to focus more on joy. And to talk a little more specifically, my next point is…
Let go of relationships that are not positive or that rob you of your joy — because… well, actually, do I really need to explain this one? Because toxic relationships or even just general negativity leads to drama, and drama sucks the joy out of life. I mean, I feel so strongly about this that I’ve gotten to a point in life where I stop watching TV shows if the main characters are toxic, but that’s another story. Anyway, I covered toxic people in Episode 75 so that may be helpful if you’re dealing with those types of situations in your life. So leading on from that, my next point is…
Build and maintain quality relationships — and I say that because it’s the quality of your relationships that matters most, rather than how many you have. You might have 300 friends, but if there’s nobody you can call to chat to when you need to get something off your chest then I would encourage you to focus on more meaningful connections with people. I guarantee you that when you’re 80, it will be the people you knew the best and the experiences you had that stand out most in your mind — and not how many so-called friends you had or what brand of phone you had or how many likes your Instagram post got! How do you build and maintain those quality relationships? I’m glad you asked! Because my next point is…
Be conscious of how you treat others and how you treat yourself — because the way you think and act directly shapes your reality, and that’s in terms of your internal world (so how you think and feel about yourself) as well as your external world (in other words, how you behave towards other people). Choose to do no harm to yourself or to others, be kind towards yourself and others, and give more than you take for yourself and for others. Why? Because those three things serve as a basic compass to focus on positive relationships with other people and, just as importantly, with yourself… and when you do that, you create more positives in your life which, in turn, will create more moments of joy.
Next, focus on being present — which I talk about a lot (like, so much at this point that you should probably just go ahead and set it as your ringtone to save us all some time!). Why do I talk about it so much? Because it helps you to focus on the present (the only moment we have for certain) and let go of worries about the future or regrets from the past. I talked about being present in Episode 83 and — spoiler alert! — next week I’m talking about the past and then the week after I’m talking about worry, so those are definitely two topics that will be helpful as well. Which leads me to my final how-to point before I begin to wrap up this week’s episode, and the point is…
Have fun — because life is too important to spend it feeling miserable and going hardcore emo all the time! Do things that you enjoy every single day; by now you all know about my addiction to RuPaul’s Drag Race and that’s my go-to for weekly joy (although at the moment there are so many different ones on plus after-shows like Whatcha Packin’? and Fashion Photo RuView that I have plenty to watch every day if I want to!)… my point is that you do you and you do what feels fun to you. If it does no harm, do what makes you happy… because the more you have fun, the more small moments of joy you will feel. Nobody said life had to be serious all the time, so please have as much fun as physically possible!
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to joy and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: When you’re dealing with difficult times or just caught up in the day-to-day mundane parts of life, it can sometimes seem difficult — or even impossible — to find joy again. But it’s always there, just waiting to be rediscovered… and when you focus on creating more joy in your life through embracing the simple pleasures and being more present each day, you find that you can choose to return your attention to joy even in the midst of trying times. And if that’s not a choice that’s worthy of your full energy and attention then… I don’t know what is!
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by Marcus Aurelius, and it is:
“Remember that very little is needed to make a happy life.”Marcus Aurelius
Alright… that’s nearly it for this week. Next week I’ll be talking about the past. I talk about the whole past/present/future thing a lot here on Let’s Talk About Mental Health and the past, in particular, is this weird place that both exists and doesn’t exist at the same time (because it’s done and dusted, but it still lives on in our memories) and it’s also something that both matters and doesn’t matter at the same time, which is enough to make your head explode! So next week I’m turning my attention to the idea of the past and I’ll be exploring how to deal with all of these competing thoughts about the past so that you can learn from it. I’ll be talking about what the past is, why viewing the past both objectively and thoughtfully matters for your mental health, and how to both embrace the past and, more importantly, make your peace with it.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 29th of August. And on Wednesday, catch the latest episode Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube or IGTV.
You’ll find all podcast episodes and videos at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au along with free transcripts, and if you join my mailing list you’ll have the transcript plus my weekly newsletter full of simple ideas for better mental health land in your inbox every Thursday, completely free. You’ll also find the link in the description of this episode on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on.
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
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