In a remarkable small book, Joy, Inspiration, and Hope, Jungian psychiatrist Verena Kast talks about helping people create their own biography of joy. This technique helps her treat people for depression and counsel people who are approaching the end of life. I have also found this a particularly powerful approach to help people look at their lives in a positive, constructive way, especially when they are struggling with grief over lost loved ones or friends.
“Joy tolerates no isolation,” Kast writes. “Joy is the emotion that lets down our guard, for better or worse. Joy opens us up …. Joy is the state in which we are least likely to reflect on ourselves. In the moment of delight, we are; there is nothing we have to do . . . when we are joyful, we feel self-confident and accept ourselves, knowing that our existence is not a matter of indifference. To put it the other way around, when we accept ourselves, we are likely to be delighted in and feel accepted by the world, experiencing an affinity with that which transcends us, with other persons, and with the spiritual.”
How to create your own biography of joy
You can begin to create your own biography of joy by thinking back to when you were a small child. How did joy feel in your body? Are you someone who tended to giggle or sing when you felt joyful? As you grew a bit older, what continued to give you joy: Christmas mornings, birthdays, a special family trip? In your teens, what evoked joy? Perhaps you felt joy after successful piano or dance recital, or when you scored a goal in soccer or football. Perhaps you remember a time you felt especially close to your father or mother, or the first time you fell in love.
What happened to joy in your life? For too many of us, joy has been lost. Perhaps we thought it was self-indulgent or childish. But joy is a legitimate part of life – a necessary, essential part of healthy living.
What gives you joy? Playing with babies or young children? Visiting friends or family? Art, music, old movies, mystery novels, or comic strips? It’s important to bring joy into your life on a regular basis, even if this notion feels self-indulgent. Consider joy as part of your recommended daily dose of essential vitamins. “Vitamin J” is vital to your well-being.
Start writing your own biography of joy today!
It’s interesting that when I ask people in the throes of terminal illness to talk about what elicited joy in their past, a remarkable thing often occurs. Even if they’re suffering, as they recall events in their childhood their expression changes: they smile and sometimes laugh aloud.
It is not unusual for people who are terminally ill to experience this state of joy when death is close. Each moment and each human interaction becomes precious. People who are dying don’t take things for granted. In the naked honesty and vulnerability that accompanies proximity to death, even seemingly inconsequential interactions-or simply the presence of another person—can be revealed for the miraculous gifts that they are. Gratitude and joy are intimately fused, and practicing gratitude is a sure way to bring joy into our lives.
Quoted from: The Four Things That Matter Most, by Ira Byock, MD