Every once in awhile, someone who has struggled with depression or anxiety sits down in a session with me, and we laugh our asses off for no apparent reason for the duration of the hour. Why? Joy was repressed inside of them. In the space of our connection, there was freedom for repressed joy to come up.

It can sound crazy for some of you to think that joy can be repressed, but truly, we can resist and repress joy as much as any other emotion. People with heavy trauma, self-worth issues, powerful scarcity fears, depression, and other issues often can’t allow themselves to feel joy. So that emotion gets stored up inside, and it waits for its time to come out and be expressed the same as any other repressed emotion.

Additionally, there doesn’t have to be a major trauma or traumas in someone’s life for them to reject joy. In a lot of cultures, work is heavily valued. Sometimes, it is valued so much that a person can’t stop working and never gives themselves time for joy. In this way, they fill up all space and time in their lives with work, leaving no time for much of anything else much less joy.

As much as I help people consciously embrace the more uncomfortable experiences that are part of life like pain, fear, anger, depression, and so forth, I also help people to embrace and express genuine joy, so let’s talk about joy today.

No Time for Joy

In a large part of Western Culture, there is no time for joy. Or that space for joy is far too small compared to the rest of someone’s life. Consider the current work-week that many Westerners have. Five of the seven days are dedicated to work. Two are for yourself.

But then those two days are rarely completely free for joy. Usually, a whole bunch of chores and other items that a person couldn’t get to during the week have to be addressed on the weekend. That’s stuff like laundry, getting food, cleaning the house, and so forth. If you’re a parent, there’s additional demands that require your attention. This leaves space for probably about 2 hours of joy a week if you’ve got the energy for it. And you probably don’t.

The Numbing Culture

Working all the time sucks, and along with a host of other issues that I’ve discussed on this blog, people are exhausted and unhappy. This leads people to numbing themselves to get through work or to dull the pain of unresolved issues. Numbing agents are anything that can make people temporarily feel better to mask discomfort, unhappiness, and so forth. Sugar is a popular numbing agent. It also gives a person energy to keep going when they probably need to stop and rest.

Sugar Is a Major Health Concern

After work, the numbing often continues with recreational substances of all kinds. Alcohol leads the way, and sometimes, it is even abused during work hours. Plus, every year there’s some new substance people find and use to make themselves feel better. But these are not healthy choices. They are poor substitutes for the real joy people know is inside of them but from which they have gotten disconnected.

Numbing Yourself to Life and Over-stimulation

When Did You Start Rejecting Joy?

Barring a truly terrible childhood, most of us were children happily playing in the mud, with sticks, with rocks, and so forth, and we had sheer and utter delight living life.

So when did you lose that? Why?

These two questions can help you understand when and how you got diverted from your natural joyful self.

Learning from the Joyful

Along with those questions, learning from the maestros of joy can help. Of course, I’m talking about children, particularly the younger ones.

If you’ve ever watched a child, they can find such amazing joy and delight in the simplest of objects and situations. While adults have decided that swingsets, slides, jungle gyms, and other contraptions are necessary for their children’s joy in a park, the reality is that children find joy in anything because they allow themselves to be fully in the moment.

So the child playing in the mud under the swingset is totally in the joy of that moment. The other who is delighted by the wood chips that are part of the playground ground isn’t feeling like she is missing out on the slides. Another child has found a stick and is happily banging it against the jungle gym that his mother had tried to get him to go onto for the last 10 minutes. There is nothing contrived here. This is the joy of living, being, and exploring.

How to Be a Better Spiritual Parent

Making Space for Unattached Joy

Making space for joy is important. Since Western Culture is Hell-bent on having everyone do things all the time, it’s important to make a commitment to having time for nothing in particular. I really want to emphasize this “having nothing in particular to do” part. True joy does not need external stimuli, and that addiction to needing other things, people, and situations to make us happy is a major problem. Because what happens when our joy is attached to an external situation and that situation goes away? Then our joy goes away.

You all know this already.

If your joy is attached to a romantic relationship, then you are sad when s/he is gone.

If your joy is attached to a project, then you miss that project when it is gone.

If your joy is attached to a home, then you are upset when you have to leave that home.

The list of conditional situations to feel joy in is long, but when those conditions are gone, joy comes much more freely to us.

How to Let Go of Your Ego

Detoxing in the Nothingness

Of course, people are so wound up that doing nothing feels like torture for many people at first. To be clear, this isn’t a laziness, although a little more laziness for the Western workaholic is not a bad thing. This is just resting in the moment. As someone moves through the phases of feeling the urge to do something and dealing with the emotions that come up, they return to a more natural resting state.

In my opinion, a lot of Westerners’ resting states are actually states of semi-alertness. They’re alert for the next action they need to take instead of deeply at rest. That wears a person down over time.

I want to emphasize that both rest and action are important. The spiritual path isn’t about doing nothing all the time. However, these days, rest is not well appreciated.

Which leaves many people too exhausted for joy.

So spending time with nothing to do is important. It allows for joyful moments and inspiration to emerge on their own.

Inaction and Non-action on the Spiritual Path

Discovering Unreasonable Happiness

Sometimes, even without making space, joy and happiness find us. They find us sitting in our car on a boring commute. They find us walking the dog. They find us perusing multiple brands of mustard in the condiments aisle of the grocery store. In those moments, we feel joyful for no reason. It simply comes.

And sometimes the ego can’t handle that, so it rushes in to reject the moment. It says:

“This commute is taking forever. Why am I so happy?’

“I’m picking up my dog’s poop right now. This is no moment to be joyful in!”

“I don’t like any of these brands of mustard, so why am I grinning like an idiot?!”

It’s amazing how something so simple as joy–the very thing people strive after–can be so quickly rejected.

The encouragement is simple: allow the joy. It will leave because all emotional states come and go. But there’s no need to reject it.

Discovering a Commitment to Unhappiness

People who reject these moments of joy and/or don’t make space for joy in their lives often have a commitment to their unhappiness. So here’s a simple question:

“Why can’t you allow yourself to be happy?”

Once again, honesty is key to engaging with such a question, and when someone is honest, they’ll find some interesting responses. Some of those responses include:

“I don’t have time.”

“It costs too much.” (Even though joy is free, a lot of people get attached to external situations to excite the emotion within them).

“There’s still too much work for me to do.” (And in this world, there will always be more work if you don’t make space for joy).

“I don’t know what happiness even is!”

That last one speaks of a major self-worth issue and/or trauma, and I would say that that type of person absolutely needs to make exploring happiness a priority. They probably also need more social support–both professional and personal.

Facing the Abyss of Self-hatred

Following Your Joyful Inspiration

Given some rest and freedom to explore, people get inspired. People get naturally happy, and every now and then, someone finds themselves giggling for no reason–like the example I mentioned at the beginning of the blog post.

Let the joy come.

Don’t be surprised, however, when the ego comes in and says, “Wait! Why I am laughing? There’s no reason for me to be laughing?”

Oh silly ego. Laughter isn’t just for kids. Laughter is a gift we all have and use too sparingly. And true laughter and happiness isn’t at another’s expense. It is just something that may bubble up from time to time.

With those initial moments of happiness, there may then come other inspirations for joy and exploration. Follow those inspirations. As you do, you may find that joy finds you a little more often throughout all of your life.


I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.

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