The first memory that comes to mind when I think about the need for joy is from a small party over 10 years ago with my friends. We are in a house outside Stockholm. We have had dinner together and some have drunk wine. It’s late and one of us has picked up the guitar. While playing and singing songs of many different kinds, we enjoy each other’s company until early morning.
We were a bunch of good friends spending a lot of time together – four couples who all had children. Today all of us are divorced (I live in Sweden after all), but I still look back at this evening full of joy. It was one of those occasions in my life that can almost be described as perfect. The company of good friends singing songs together. An experience of total presence without the desire to be in another place or to think about the past or the future.
The need and the feeling of joy
Thinking about joy, I have a hard time distinguishing between the feeling and the need for joy. When our needs are met, we experience feelings that we could describe as pleasant. When I feel joyful, this feeling can be an expression that is rooted in many needs. So what is it that distinguishes the need for joy from the other needs?
Joy as an evolutionary survival mechanism
Maybe joy is about an evolutionary survival mechanism? I believe that all animals have instincts that make them approach what they like, such as food, sex and socialising, and distance themselves from what they dislike. If we look at joy in this way, it is an overall need that signals that a lot of our other needs are being met. When we experience joy, we want to continue doing what we do. The evolutionary purpose is that this contributes to both our individual short-term and our long-term collective survival.
Besides, joy can be linked to a gut feeling. I am faced with a lot of choices in life. Many of the things I choose to do, I have no rational basis for. If I’m faced with several choices, one of these options may stand out because of this gut feeling. Sometimes our gut feeling can lead us astray, but for the most part, it’s a pretty good guide. Choosing the option that feels most joyful is exactly that: more joyful.
At the same time, I have a value that I would rather be purpose driven than emotionally driven. I believe that if we let joy be the governing need in too many situations, perhaps we will act to get instant rewards instead of working on our long-term goals?
Here I get support from a book called “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. In the book, there are lots of situations where people’s gut feeling leads to the right decision. A decision that is not preceded by a logical process. These decisions seem to work best in areas in which we have lots of experience and where we unconsciously succeed in interpreting subtle signals from our surroundings.
Joy as a guide
I think it’s the same with joy. My brain contains so much experience and stored information. I can’t lean towards all of this with my rational mind. When faced with different choices in my life, I often let my emotions guide my decisions. I can’t rationally describe why, but my gut feeling seems to do a pretty good job. People who don’t experience this gut feeling have a very hard time making decisions. They are faced with a world with countless parameters. Without any gut feelings, they have a very hard time choosing.
After thinking and writing this blog post, I see joy as a need that helps us make better decisions. Decisions that are also in line with other needs that benefit our life. In my introductory example, the need for joy is accompanied by needs such as community, togetherness, security, relaxation and acceptance. And having these needs fulfilled at the same time, that is joyful!
How do you experience joy?
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Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)
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