In case you missed it here is Adam Goes Live, Episode 2 all about Joy.
This was supposed to be the last post of a series about joy. Remember when I started this series on joy? It was Oct. 4 and we were just coming off the worst mass shooting in American history.
Well, now I'm almost done and guess what.......another horrific mass shooting.
Before sitting down to write this morning I listened to families in Sutherland Springs on the radio. They were trying to explain to their children why their friends were murdered in church.
And we are supposed to be joyful? Yeah right. Today I'm going to talk about a different core emotion.....anger.
I sat with a colleague this week who told me about his teenage son's innocent death in a drive-by shooting. He is a pastor and he shared that he was angry at God when this happened. It nearly broke him, and yet it didn't. Eventually, his relationship with God became more intimate. But only after he learned that his anger with God was a tool to go deeper, not a barrier of division.
It reminded me of something that has been attributed to the work of Dr. Taibi Kahler, who discovered Process Communication Model. He says,
the last hurdle of true intimacy is the ability to be angry with each other.
I have applied this wisdom to couples who come for counseling or pre-marital work. Sex is not the peak of intimacy, healthy conflict is where the real action is!
Well, the thing is....I've been really angry lately, but not the good kind.
I am angry at my fellow Americans, my elected officials, the NRA, President Trump, and on and on. For the most part, this has not been the kind of anger that creates positive change and allows for intimacy. Instead, I confess, this has been the kind of anger that seeks to destroy those who disagree with me, seeks allies to justify my position, and leaves me feeling helpless.
This is not healthy anger.
You see all that anger is energy and right now it is being wasted. It's a raging fire and it's energy is only destructive. But what if that energy were focused. Fire doesn't only destroy; it also creates!
I've heard floated the idea that this mass shooting thing is an unsolvable problem, but this belief is a myth and our destructive anger is stoking that myth. In reality, we already have enough energy, now we just need to use that energy for good! And I for one intend to so!
I am setting a course for change in my personal life so that I might impact the world in a bigger way. I am going to study harder, write more, and dig deeper into my life producing projects. I will confront toxic masculinity that gives young men the impression they can't be vulnerable and that their anger must be expressed in violence. I will hold friends, family, and acquaintances responsible for the contributions to systems of injustice and destructive anger. And will seek to channel that energy toward good.
To bring things full circle; I will not let evil and destruction steal my joy. It is even more important now to be joyful; to practice the skills that help me be joyful and to offer joy to those I disagree with so that we might find a different way forward together.
I will weep along the way but don't take that as a sign of weakness or a lack of joyfulness. Instead, be encouraged by those tears. It means my heart still breaks for the injustice in this world, and that I'm still working to get angry, bring joy, and impact change.
If you want to read my 5 tips for getting angry sign up for my Tune In Tip.
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson has worked for years uncovering some of the most interesting brain research that I've seen...and been able to still read!
Regarding Joy, Davidson has found 4 distinct and seperate circuits in the brain that help humans experience well-being. Below I have listed the four circuits and paired them with a practice that I think might help strengthen that circuit.
The paraphrase of this research is taken the Dalai Lama in "The Book of Joy".
1. The ability to maintain positive states.
Practice: Gratitude There are several ways to practice gratitude I recommend a gratitude journal. At the end of each day write down the things you are grateful for. Really force yourself to pick as many as you can. Then re-read the journal at the end of the week. Bonus points! Have some thank you notes handy and let the people you are grateful for know about it with a simple note.
2. The ability to recover from negative states.
Practice: Welcoming Prayer Borrowed from the Christian tradition of spiritual practices this prayer is used to allow God to transform our negative pain. If you are not Christian, think of it as a way to name and release the negative outcomes of pain or suffering. The steps of the prayer are simple. First focus on the physical sensation you experience from the negative emotion. Second, allow yourself to feel it fully in your mind, body, and soul; sinking deeply into the pain. Third, welcome the pain and remind yourself of the lessons it brings. Finally, let go of that pain. I actually like to visualize the pain releasing its grip on my insides. As you let go allow the pain to slip through your body until it fully leaves. (More on Welcoming Prayer here)
3. The ability to focus and avoid mind wandering
Practice: Meditation There are lots of ways to practice meditation. Of the four areas listed this is my most difficult and least natural. Because I have less confidence I use a guided meditation app on my phone called Headspace. There are lots like it, but I like Headspace because it eases you into it and has kids meditations. It does cost money, and there are lots of free ones out there so find what works for you!
4. The ability to be generous.
Practice: Giving Relationship This is the most exciting of the four discoveries for me. I love that we are designed to be happier when we are generous. While this is not a part of the research, I have my own theory that there is a hierarchy of generosity. I believe the kind of generosity you practice will impact your return on investment as it relates to joy. Here is the theory.
- Relational giving = Produces most joy
- Giving of a skill or service = Produces moderate joy
- Giving money or other physical resources = Will only produce joy if done with intentionallity
Basically, I think mentoring a student, spending time with an elder, or supporting a friend is better for us than simply writing a check. Especially if we try to exert influence over an individual or organization because of the money we donate.
So there you have it! Four circuits of the brain that are designed to help us experience well being. If you want more joy in your life, start exercising the brain!
I will be spending a few more weeks on joy finishing with a Facebook Live event on Nov. 15th at noon. If you want to get email updates and receive my weekly Tune In Tip subscribe to the email list below.
This weekend I preached at Calvary United Methodist Church in Wichita, KS. Below is the video. If you don't have time for the whole sermon (12 minutes) I included a short transcript of my favorite part below. It will give you a window into what I talked about.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
One contextual note: We sang "Joy To the World" right before the sermon.
I've not had to endure much suffering in my life. For the most part I'm the spitting image of White Male American privilege! Gross right? Anyways, the one time in my life where I did experience some struggle was when Ashley and I adopted our son.
We made connections with the birth mother three weeks before the due date and quickly tried to wrap our heads around this opportunity to become parents. On the day he was born we were waiting in the next room and our son was rolled in to meet us at exactly 5 minutes old. It was a moment of JOY I will never forget.
Not 24 hours into our lives as parents the birth-father decided to contest the adoption. This meant that our becoming a forever family took 4 months of communication with lawyers, an extended stay at my gracious in-laws home, and several moments where we thought we might lose this precious child in our care.
Our son was born several states away and when we when to get him there were some well meaning people who warned us that adoption is the kind of thing that isn't final until it's really really final. They encouraged us to guard our hearts just in case things didn't work out.
You see when they bring you this beautiful, vulnerable, bundle of love in the form of a tiny human you have no choice. The only thing I could do was to pour every ounce of love I had into this child. To give him every bit of my being in any way I could.
And the whole time I knew that the more I loved him the more I opened my self up to experiencing great amounts of Joy. I also knew that the more I loved him I also opened myself up to great amounts of suffering. Now 5 years later, that hasn't really changed. If we are going to people of love we must take joy and suffering together.
You see joy and suffering are not opposites. They are linked together in an inseparable kind of way. And because of joy I laugh more easily....but I also weep more easily.
The goal of Joy is not to be happy. It is to be conduits of love a world that needs it desperately. And the way to experience more joy is to be completely and relentlessly connected to sources of love.
Next weeks blog post I will be sharing some practices that are specifically designed to help increase joy. Be sure to sign up to the Tune In Tip. This weekly email will help you stay connected with all my content as well as give you a weekly practice that will keep you in tune with the person you want to be in the world.
Another week, another blast of horrifying news.
Viewing the pictures from Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Houston, etc makes it nearly impossible to avoid the fact that our world is suffering and like many I am desperate to respond. After feeling pretty helpless at first, I've decided on how to stand up to this suffering.
I will be joyful.
Yes, Joyful. Not because I like watching people suffer, but because real joy allows us to be closer to real suffering. Here is a quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
"Discovering More joy does not, I'm sorry to say save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennoboles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken." The Book of Joy, pg. 12.
These are words from a man who has suffered greatly, yet has held fast to a type of joy few actually experience in this life. That is the kind of joy I want to know, practice, and share in the world. That kind of joy makes me feel powerful instead of helpless. Instead of being swallowed by the suffering I see each day, this spiritually centered joy helps me turn suffering inside out.
I weep, but I don't crumble. I repent, but I am not filled with shame. And finally I respond. Often the response feels too frail, too trivial, or too pale in comparison. But the world has enough suffering and I will not beget suffering with more suffering. I will match suffering with joy.
Over the next several weeks I am going to focus on the topic of Joy. You can see a weekly blog about Joy here and eventually I will do live show on my Facebook page. I am still working on topics for this series and would love to hear your comments, questions, or reactions about the topic of joy.
My hope is that we will be able to learn, practice and share joy in the world. so stay tuned to the blog! You can sign up for the Tune In Tip and get weekly email reminders about the blog post and a tip to stay joyful in the world.