Joy 101 — How to Open the Door to Your Emotions

Image of a daffodil. A nice symbol of joy.

Joy, or her gentler sister, happiness, can seem elusive. We have been told by our society we will be happy when we achieve a goal or gain an item we have coveted. I’m here to tell you joy can be found without any of that. Not only can it be found, without those items and experiences, but pursuing them at all costs can interfere with joy.

The reason many of us find happiness so elusive is that we have decided to shut the door on emotions.  Let’s back up a little. Emotions can be labelled “good” or “bad”. That is a simple idea. Anger, envy, jealousy and hate are seen as negative. Even sadness and regret can fall into the “bad” category. We all seek the “good” feelings of joy (that’s what this blog is about!), happiness, love and contentment, for example.

Social rules of engagement further say we can express the good emotions, usually, in public, but not always. Try laughing out loud during a eulogy if you don’t believe me. The bad emotions, however, should be hidden and denied. If you are really angry, it is generally not acceptable to express it in the moment, especially if when angry you throw and break things.

So, what am I getting at? We have been taught to greater or lesser degrees when and how and if we can express the emotions we are feeling. Truth is, if you feel impatient, you feel impatient. It is neither good nor bad, it just is. The trouble starts if you decide to lash out at someone because you are feeling this way, but I digress.

When an emotion is created energy is built up. There are tons of hormones, bodily reactions and sensations associated with all kinds of emotions. If you choose to repress them, in the moment they occur, that energy does not dissipate. It stays somewhere in your body and waits to be released.

We are all familiar with someone who strikes out in anger at some small slight. In some instances this can simply be a build up of anger, that was not expressed at the time it formed. The energy from the anger is still trying to escape and a small thing sets it off. It is expressed in an inappropriate situation and seems out of proportion to the small slight that set it off.

Forcing ourselves to not experience emotions, when they occur not only can backfire, like described above, it takes a huge amount of energy to keep your emotions under control all of the time. Enter addictions. If we have anger, sadness, hate and other “bad” emotions we are trying to suppress, not express, and their energy is building up, one of the ways to deal with this is to avoid it. Shopping, gambling, legal and illegal drugs (governments decide on this distinction so I would argue the distinction is not real), over-working, over-exercising…there are too many to list. These things numb us and allow us to ignore the pent up emotions we have stored in our bodies.

Unfortunately, this does not work long term. Unexpressed emotions can erupt at unexpected times, can lead to illness, stress and depression and worst of all, we cannot just block the unpleasant or “bad” emotions. When we block emotions, we block all emotions.

In order to get to joy we must feel all emotions, the “good” and the “bad”. This includes all of the emotions we have failed to express in the past. If we want to get to a place where we can feel joy, happiness and contentment, we must feel and express what we have been told are unacceptable, or what we have found are unpleasant emotions.

Here is a step by step guide on how to release repressed emotions:
1. Find Time

The actual exercise can last from a few minutes to over an hour depending on you personally, how many emotions you have repressed, how long you have been storing pent-up emotions and how painful the experience is.

In addition to the time spent doing the work, you will need recovery time. This is not the type of exercise you should do right before going to work, or before a social outing. Leave time to take a walk, have a shower or bath, get outside, listen to good music or some other activity that will act as a balm over the wounds you are about to open. This is not the best time to turn to any addictions or bad habits you may have.

2. Find a place

You are looking for a place where you will have the maximum amount of privacy you can muster. This may be more difficult for some, especially if you live in a home that does not afford you privacy. You may need to find a wooded area that is not heavily populated, or park your car in a secluded area. You may need to ask a friend if you can do this exercise at their home. Do whatever you can to find a place where you can make noise, feel safe and not have to worry about your surroundings.

Depending on you personally, you may prefer one of the two following things:

1. Some individuals need to have a place where they cannot break or damage anything. If you know or suspect this may be you, plan for it. Have things you can break, pillows you can punch, paper or cardboard you can tear, that sort of thing.

2. Others need comfort. If this is you, grab a blanket or shawl, wrap it around you and sit somewhere you feel safe and secure.

3. Do the Work

a.  Think of things that have rattled you. Remember times you were wronged or shamed or felt hurt. Play music that makes you feel sad. Watch a movie you know dredges up emotions. Do what you need to do to have any emotion surface. Allow yourself to feel and express the emotion.

b.  Be prepared for rage, anger, crying, sobbing, yelling, laughing or any other way an emotion can be expressed. Let it happen. This is a highly personal and individual experience.  Do not get pulled into a thought process about why you feel this way, or that you shouldn’t feel this way. If your brain is demanding attention, focus on describing how the emotion appears in your body.

c.  Create a picture in your mind about the sensations. “My stomach is a red ball of liquid” for instance. Do not say, “I am angry”, describe the sensations using colours, textures and shapes. There can be no judgement. Do not berate yourself for being weak or for having the emotions. Try to stop the part of your brain trying to understand and explain what is happening. Allow yourself to fully express the emotions that come up.

d.  It is normal to start with one emotion and have it evolve into another. Do not judge yourself for starting with sadness, for instance, becoming angry, feeling hate and then laughing out loud. This is normal. The order I gave was just an example. The emotions will come up in an unpredictable way.

Note:  even the most painful of feelings will last a maximum of 90 seconds. There may be more than one wave of emotions, but each will only last 90 seconds. You can allow even the most uncomfortable sensation to last that long.

e.  When no more emotions surface, or you’ve reached your limit. Stop. Do the activity you planned for before you began, like go for a walk outside.

It is not possible to do this exercise wrong. As you do it more often you will become accustomed to how to release the emotions without trying to “think” your way out of it. You will know you are doing it correctly when you feel slightly “lighter” afterwards. If you feel like you have re-experienced the trauma that caused the emotion initially, you are in your thoughts too much. Practice describing the sensations visually while doing this exercise, that will help.

4. Repeat

This should be repeated as often as possible. The sessions will decrease in time and intensity. Piece by piece you are dismantling opening the door to emotions. This is when joy starts to flow into your life. It is not possible to feel joy exclusively, you must feel all emotions and this exercise will help you to do that.

What are you Passionate About?

IMG_3673When was the last time that you were so eager to do something that you couldn’t wait? How about stopping to just enjoy the moment, or “smell the roses”? I’m not talking about getting to the end of work so that you can relax, or worse looking forward to retirement, I’m talking about looking forward to actually doing (rather than not having to do) something. This is not “living for the weekend”. I’m talking about actually having something that you love to do.

If you find that you cannot remember the last time that you had that Christmas morning feeling, or even some activity that you look forward to, there could be a few reasons. One of the more common reasons is that there is simply nothing in your life that makes you feel excited or passionate or inspired at all. This can be the result of several factors.

The first factor is that in order to feel emotions we must be willing to feel all emotions. In our Prozac society, feeling bad is often seen as a choice–and not a smart one at that. But I disagree. In order to feel the range of emotions that we are capable of feeling you must be willing to feel the good and the bad.

It has been recognized that shutting out unpleasant emotions closes the door on all feelings. We cannot selectively feel only those emotions we want to feel. When we block some, we block them all.

Anger, fear, pain and loneliness are not pleasant feelings. Many of us have found ways to avoid experiencing this unpleasantness. We eat, smoke, drink take antidepressants, shop, watch television or play video games. We all have our own avoidance mechanisms.

These mechanisms allow us to focus on something other than the discomfort that we are feeling. No one alive can avoid unpleasant emotions forever, mainly because unpleasant stuff happens to everyone, but also because these emotions do not go away when they are not experienced. They get stored up in your body waiting for an opportunity to be expressed and having a detrimental impact on your health in the meantime.

Not allowing ourselves to feel emotions can be likened to holding a door almost shut. When the emotions start to come through the door we lean on the door, not quite able to lock it shut and a lot of effort (or avoidance tactics) is required to hold the door in place. Unfortunately, all of the good emotions are held on the other side of the door as well. Love, passion, joy and happiness get stuck on the other side. We increasingly become disconnected from not only the bad and uncomfortable emotions but we can no longer tap into the good emotions either.

Another factor that can get into the way of being passionate is that we’ve told ourselves that we cannot have what we want. Written this way that seems absurd, but we were all raised in a society that taught us how we were supposed to behave in order to be successful and acceptable. You need to have a job that will give you enough income to support yourself; good parents always put their children first; good little boys and girls do not behave that way; there is not enough time and my personal favourite, if it is not productive it is not worth doing at all.

Many of these beliefs are not even conscious; we have just learned to push aside desire when we know that we cannot accommodate it. I would love to sail, but I don’t have a boat and I don’t live near the water, so when I think about sailing I’ll delegate it to when I retire–for instance.

Finally, we have to be willing to listen to our own hearts and actually dream about what we would like to be doing. This type of activity, or non-activity, is equally discouraged in our society. Someone that takes time to do nothing is often seen as unproductive and I don’t have to tell you how frowned upon that is in our culture. You must be willing to be unproductive, to allow yourself to dream and fantasize about possibilities before you are going to be able to tap into what you really want.

Passion and excitement make life worth living. If you realize that you no longer feel passion at all, ask yourself if you are feeling anything. Have you learned to suppress all of your emotions? What are you doing instead of feeling them?

Take the time today to ask yourself what you would love to do (today, not some time in the future!), pay attention to what you tell yourself about why you can’t do it and consider the possibility that those reasons may not be true. If you can’t think of anything that you would like to do, take fifteen minutes to do nothing. Let you mind wander and see what comes up, it may amaze you.

10 Ways to Improve Your Life TODAY, in under an hour

IMG_3383In order to truly enjoy your life you need to make yourself a priority. You are the only one that will always be there and it is up to you to make sure that you treat yourself well. Regardless of how much work you have, the people that rely on you or how many other things are competing for your time, if you are not enjoying yourself, what is the point? There is no future where you can say, there, I’m done; now I can enjoy myself. This is it. Enjoy today.

1. Recognize that you don’t know anything (1 minute)

A lot of conflict in our lives stems from our convictions. Wars have been fought over differences in belief systems. All malicious gossip stems from the certainty that we know what is right and that someone else is not following the rules. It is not possible to actually know anything for sure. Even facts have often turned out to not be true, or is the world flat? Everything that we think we know is based on our past experiences and our perception. New experiences can change our perception and therefore can change what we “know”, so why are we so sure of ourselves?

Why this is valuable

Once we recognize that we don’t know what others are thinking, why they did specific actions or what is truly, unequivocally true, we no longer believe the stories we are telling ourselves about what is going on. This frees us from judgment and the need to fight to support our points of view. This one change in perspective can transform how you feel about your relationships, your life, your opportunities and your history. It has the ability to free up all kinds of energy for creativity and inspiration and to let you enjoy yourself instead of defending your position.

2. Go outside (2 minutes)

A quick, free gift that we can give ourselves is to simply go outside. This can be done by taking an extra two minutes during the time that you would normally walk between your vehicle and the building you are headed for. Experience being outside, for just a moment, pay attention to the natural surroundings, the sky, the breeze, the temperature…

Why this is valuable

We are all part of nature. We were designed to feel the sunshine, experience the breeze, enjoy the natural scenery or at the very least, scenery different from the interiors that we are used to looking at. This is a reminder that we are part of a larger whole and that we are connected to nature. This can help you relax, feel grounded and like you are part of something timeless.

3. Take the time to “feel” your body (3 minutes)

Start at your toes and work your way up your calves, thighs, up and up, you get the picture. No judgment, just observation. Is there any tightness, pain, vibration, heat, cold, irritation, lightness etc.?

Why this is valuable

Our bodies are great sources of information. Some call it intuition or a “gut feeling”, but the truth is that they are collecting and sorting data at lightening speed and we need to pay attention to it. By learning what your body sensations are, you will develop an understanding of how you feel day to day. When a change occurs, you will notice it more readily and this helps you “hear” what your body is trying to tell you. Being in touch with your body helps you become whole. It allows you to respond to its needs rather than forcing it to behave how you want. This will increase your contentment and your experience of joy.

4. Dream of something that you would like in your life (3 minutes)

What would you like in your life? How would you like your life to look? What would you like to be doing right now? Allow yourself to indulge in pretending that you already have what you just thought of. Be grateful for all of the things in your life that you already have. Indulge in fantasy for three minutes.

Why this is valuable 

All accomplishments require some kind of vision. Before a building can be built, someone had to dream of the building and put that vision down on paper (or into a computer program) so that others would know what to build. Your life is like that. If you want something, believe that you can have it. Picture it. At the very least, it will make you feel good, positive and hopeful for three minutes.

5. Think of something that you would like to do and plan to do it (5 minutes)

This is a more concrete example of what I said above. You know you want to visit a city, see an exhibition, go for a hike, a canoe or a drive or any of a million activities that you already know you want to do. Take five minutes now and plan to do it. Set a date, invite those people you would like to share it with and put it in your calendar.

Why this is valuable

There is nothing more concrete that you can do to bring happiness into your life than doing things that you enjoy. It will not get done if you do not schedule it in (sad but true, often) so do that now. Five minutes, do the work to make a plan and schedule it.

6. Do something that you actually enjoy (5 minutes)

This is even MORE concrete than the examples above. Indulge yourself for five minutes. Look at photos you like, go outside again, watch a video, sing in your car or your shower or where you work (if possible :-)), dance, apply a moisturizer to your face, give someone a hug, tell a joke, do your nails, take some photos, do a puzzle etc., You know what you like to do.

Why this is valuable

It is easy to forget that many of life’s simplest pleasures are right at hand all of the time. When we stop to think about it and indulge, we enjoy ourselves here and now.

7. Do a random favour for a stranger (5 minutes)

An under-appreciated way to bring immediate joy into your life is to commit a random act of kindness. Some popular examples are: “pay if forward”, where-in you pay for the person behind you in line at the drive-through; helping someone to their car when they have several packages; and of course the simple act of holding a door for someone. Be creative.

Why this is valuable

If you do one small gesture for someone today it will make you feel better immediately and it may put them in a better mood as well. This also has the potential to create a ripple effect.

8. Express any emotion that you have for five minutes (10 minutes)

I probably don’t have to tell you that bursting into tears at work, yelling at someone you don’t know or becoming incapacitated by grief or loneliness is simply not acceptable in our society, or more to the point, not acceptable in public. Truth is, we still have to feel these emotions and express them (however loud and uncomfortable that may be).

Why this is valuable

Unexpressed emotions stay in your body and are lurking there waiting for your guard to be down. Just when it is most inappropriate, they are expressed. If they are not expressed they fester. This can manifest as illness, addiction, inappropriate behaviours and depression. The energy required to not express or feel emotions is much greater than the energy required to release them. Letting yourself feel whatever it is you are feeling, for five minutes a day, (no judgment allowed) will increase clarity and inspiration. It is important to realize that you don’t have to know why you feel the way that you do. Just allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you are feeling. Ten minutes are allotted because you will need some recovery time before you can resume your ‘normal’ life.

9. Walk for 10 minutes (10 minutes)

Your body will respond immediately to this gentle movement. I am not talking about high level exercise, the need for special foot wear or even tracking distance. This is a chance to just move your body in a natural way.

Why this is valuable

We were designed to have some movement and this small contribution will enhance your mood, your immune system and your outlook. Add in good scenery (even if it is the latest styles) or good company (if you can interest a friend) and you double the bang for your ten minutes.

10. Take fifteen minutes to do nothing (15 minutes)

This one is last because it is the largest time commitment and quite frankly is the most beneficial of all of the above. Sit, stand, lie down or do any repetitive activity that does not require too much attention (it’s not very beneficial if you get hit by a car) and just pay attention to your thoughts, your body and the environment (even if you are indoors). Come to appreciate the fact that your mind continues speaking to you regardless of whether or not you need to remind yourself of anything. Pay attention to this moment only. Do not plan for the future or worry about the past. Do not get engaged in the thoughts that appear in your mind, just try to observe the words. Be here now.

Why this is valuable

Doing nothing, sometimes called meditation, sometimes called mindfulness, has been shown to benefit every aspect of your life. It decreases stress (and all stress related bad habits), improves mood (which makes you more productive and more likely to have friends around), increases your immunity (which means less time wasted being ill or not feeling well) and helps you understand the importance of the first 9 Ways to improve your life. It gives your brain a break and allows you to stop thinking obsessively about things. Think of it as rebooting your brain. Rebooting your brain for joy…

Our Thoughts Create Our Perception of the World

Releasing Emotions

The Most Important Moment is Now

Recommended Reading



The Joy Diet 

How to focus on the things that can bring joy into your life today.