Sandra Chaloux

| 05/08/2017

Obstacles to Joy

Obstacles to Joy

If you have been wondering how to find more joy in your life, you are not alone. Have you also been wondering, what is stopping you from experiencing more joy? I have too.

I spent time over the weekend looking through The Book of Joy, a 2016 New York Times Bestseller, written by two of the great spiritual leaders of our time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. The obstacles to joy they identify in the book include:

A Lack of Mental Immunity (You Are a Masterpiece in the Making)

Fear, Stress & Anxiety

Frustration & Anger

Sadness & Grief

Despair: The World is In Such Turmoil



Suffering from Anxiety

Illness & Fear of Death

Let’s dive in. I want to pass along some highlights from the book.

Joy vs Happiness

First, what is the difference between happiness and joy? Happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, is a state of the mind and heart that “animates our lives and ultimately leads to a life of satisfaction and meaning.”

You’ve probably heard many times, how mindset & perspective make all the difference in how you experience life. These authors agree and say that so much of our unhappiness originates in our own mind and heart –in how we react to events in our life.

So how do we develop a better mindset?

Mental Immunity

These spiritual leaders say the key is to develop “mental immunity.” Mental immunity they define as learning how to avoid destructive emotions and how to develop positive ones. First, by accepting ourselves as we are, and then striving to grow mentally strong. They acknowledge that it takes time to develop mental immunity.

The authors point out that negative thoughts and emotions are natural and that we should not berate ourselves for having them. Negative emotions become even more intense when we feel guilt and shame for having them. Recognition and acceptance are the first important steps.

They say the process of developing mental immunity starts with self-inquiry and meditation. This is how we can discover the nature of our mind and learn to soothe our emotional reactivity, leaving us less vulnerable to destructive emotions and thought patterns that cause so much suffering.

What else causes heartache?

The authors say that so much of what causes heartache is our wanting things to be different than they are. Acceptance is a whole topic on its own–but this is a thought-provoking idea I want to include here.

Fear, Anxiety & Stress

The authors say that in most cases, fear is a mental projection and we need to analyze what is causing the fear.

When fear gets exaggerated, we experience stress, worry, and anxiety. It is hard to be joyful with stress and anxiety. In this state, we have a continual feeling of being overwhelmed and not being able to handle our work commitments, our family commitments. And our digital devices are constantly reminding us of all the things we are missing. Juggling so many things at the same time, we can feel like we are always behind.

Isn’t it interesting how we have so many more opportunities now, but we also have so many more anxieties? The Dalai Lama says that stress and anxiety often come from too much expectation and too much ambition. When we aren’t able to fulfill our expectation or achieve an ambition, we get frustrated. However, when we have a clear picture about our own capacity, we can be more realistic about our effort. Then there is a much greater chance of achieving our goals.

+ The belief that more is better is a recipe for stress and frustration, and ultimately dissatisfaction.

This then raises the question of prioritiesWhat is really worth pursuing? What is it we truly need?

These spiritual leaders remind us that all we really need is -love and connection. In this context then, all the grasping that we thought was so essential, takes its rightful place and no longer becomes the focus and obsession of our lives.

The Dalai Lama says, “We must try to be conscious about how we live and not get swept away by the modern trance, the relentless march, the anxious accelerator.”

Their advice….Be more realistic so you can come to some sense of inner peace now.

Medical scientists say that constant fear, anger, and hatred harms our immune system.

Being physically tired can lead you to feel frustrated and angry. Your basic physical condition makes a difference. Your mind can’t be fresh, if your body isn’t fresh.

A healthy mind is a calm mind. Fear and anger are destroyers of a calm mind. Eventually, through training and reasoning, we can transform our emotions. It is a lifelong practice, in which we continually wrestle with the fear and anger mechanisms of our mammal brain.

Challenge vs Threat

Symptoms of chronic stress are feelings of being fragmented and of chasing after time –of not being present.

The fight-or-flight stress response in the body include a beating heart, pulsing blood, or tingling in your hands and face, and rapid (shallow) breathing –these are natural responses to stress that our body is preparing to rise to the challenge.

Instead, what we are looking for is a settled, joyful state of being. It turns out that our perspective has a surprising amount of influence over the body’s stress response. When we turn a threat into a challenge in our mind, our body responds very differently.

Connection vs Separation

Another interesting observation by the authors is that so much of our stress is dependent on seeing ourselves as separate from others, which is related to the loss of our sense of communal connection. If we think we are special or not special enough, then we experience fear, nervousness, stress, and anxiety.

The authors say that the best way to handle your worries is thinking about others. “You can think about others who are in a similar situation or perhaps even in a worse situation, but who have survived, and even thrived. It does help quite a lot to see yourself as part of a greater whole.”

They say the path to joy is connection, and the path to sorrow is separation. When we see others as separate, they become a threat. When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge we cannot face –together.

Finally, mental development takes time –minute by minute, day by day, month by month, year by year, decade by decade.

If you are interested in exploring this in more depth, we covered these topics in a recent Stress Management workshop that Wellness Hub hosted. I’m excited to be able to offer the audio recording from this workshop that you can listen to anytime to help you calm your mind.


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