Most therapists treat depressed patients every working day but I doubt many patients consider the possibility of joy as the best anti-depressant there is.
Let's be realistic, however: there are times, perhaps too many times, when life stinks, and joy is the furthest emotion from us. Life is a mixture of sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure.
Have you heard the joke that a psychotherapist is a high priced professional who makes you realize how miserable your life is? It's true! Therapists encourage patients to fully face their suffering, and not run from it.
Here's something that may seem even more bizarre about psychotherapy: its purpose, in my view, is not necessarily to eliminate negative emotions - hurt, sadness, anger, and fear - but to free people to feel their feelings. Effective psychotherapy hurts.
But we therapists attempt to redefine suffering as an opportunity for growth. The so called negative emotions are there for our protection and benefit. They're trying to get our attention, to tell us it's time to heal, change or grieve.
What people are afraid of, understandably, in doing therapeutic work is feeling their emotional pain. Once they begin to cry or rage, they're afraid they won't be able to stop.
But the tears eventually do dry up; the anger fades to be replaced by forgiveness. There is a natural healing in letting emotions out in a controlled manner that is not overwhelming.
And then a strange thing can happen: joy can begin to creep into our lives. Having been open to the pain of life, we're better able to experience and appreciate the pleasures.
There can be no joy without gratitude. Therapists often want people to see the cup as half full , rather than half empty, as their moods will change accordingly. No matter how bad life gets, it can help to recognize there are some things for which we can be grateful, even if it is that we're not as bad off as someone else who is less fortunate.
Joy can only be found in the present moment. Worrying about, or planning for, the future, while necessary at times, can interfere with enjoying what is happening now. It is only in the now that everything can be seen as a miracle and every moment as holy.
Joy can best be found in simple things: a cup of tea, a beautiful sunset, snow falling gently, your favorite music, the caring touch of a loved one, watching children play, the graceful perfection of walking. Money, fame, position, power, status - these are no guarantors of joy. Rather it is freely available to us all, without having to earn it, and not just the privileged few.
In fact, the mystics tell us that joy is our birthright, the natural condition of our lives. Just look at the spontaneous, joy-filled behavior of young children unencumbered by adult concerns.
Obviously, as adults, we can't expect to experience joy all the time. There will always be worries, problems and daily drudgery to diminish it.
But the possibility of joy always remains available to us. "If only people knew how perfect everything is," wrote Alan Watts, "they would go wild with joy." Perhaps this realization can sustain us through the tough times.
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