How can joy be so elusive?

It seems like joy is so vulnerable and fragile. Especially in adults. Vulnerable in the sense that joy is often so easily scattered, dissolved, or transformed into something not so joyful. This article will give insight into why joy is so elusive and how we can find a more anchored sense of joy.

How can joy be so elusive?

Joy with missing parts

We can't find a more profound, solidified sense of joy because we tend to embody joy-with-missing-parts. It appears to be an incomplete or less natural type of joy. It's either too conditional, too selfish, or too selfless. Or in other words: The joy we experience is elusive because it is scattered, too rigorously or selfishly chased, or dimmed and repressed.

There seems to be much to explore about our inability to experience joy for long periods. So, in the past year, I analyzed all sorts of situations in which joy was either present or under pressure.

It dawned on me that there are two mechanisms at play that seem to create and further enable this joy with missing parts:

1. Joy with an escape exit, which I will call: Joy Escapism.

2. An escape exit to joy, which I will call: Escapism Joy.

Joy escapism

Joy Escapism can be explained as follows: It exists or occurs when a set of ideas and beliefs around joy create an exit for it. An exit for joy to escape through, a door that is always there because it is ingrained in us. An ever-present opening that pulls us away from joy, sometimes even before we experience it.

The exit through which joy escapes us (left)+the exit through which we try to attain joy (right)

The distorted view have on joy

The escapism is a result of the distorted view we have on joy. Ideas and beliefs around joy are expressed in phrases like:

You can’t always be joyful...
You should not just be seeking joy all the time!

Phrases like these are not untrue. We all experience different emotions or states of being. There also is nothing wrong with not feeling so joyful at times.

Only chasing joy and accepting nothing else can indeed lead you to unhappiness, suppression, or trouble.

However, despite the truth of all of it, these phrases are rarely helpful because they are incomplete.

What the escape exit is built upon

These helpful, 'supporting' comments are missing something. Just like is the case with most phrases that we use daily. The incompleteness derives from a belief (mainly shaped in our childhood). It portrays a view that excludes part of the truth. That exclusion forms and strengthens the escape exit for joy in a way I'll explain later on. First, let’s look at the incompleteness itself.

The incompleteness

The incompleteness of phrases like 'you can't always be joyful' can be explained as follows: Yes, it is okay to feel down at times, to not feel joy, and it is good to accept whatever it is you feel right now.

However, what should follow onto such a statement, to make it more complete, is something like: '… and it is also understandable and reasonable that not being in joy is hurting you.'

This addition is relevant because not experiencing joy for at least a great part of the time is hurtful. Joy is a much more natural state of being for us than, for instance, depression.

Denying that missing joy is hurting us is, therefore, hurtful to us too. Therefore, simply stating, 'well, you can't be joyful all the time,' misses empathy and compassion for the part of us that misses joy.

In reality, joy and sadness or anger can even co-exist. It is possible to experience anger or sadness and still feel joy inside. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with being depressed AND desiring joy.

This doesn't mean that you should feel any of these things simultaneously. You can be outraged and not want any joy to be near you. The point here is: Using this incomplete phrase, which only emphasizes that you can’t always be in joy, isn’t helping you. Because it strengthens the common beliefs in us that state something along the line of:

· Joy is great, but we can’t have too much of it, and you need to accept that;

· I should not try to seek joy too much because that is not realistic or because that is foolish;

· If I want to be in joy, but I'm not, it means I deny other feelings or am not accepting enough of 'what is.'

As explained in the first paragraphs of this section, these incomplete phrases can hold a rejection of the desire to experience joy or even a rejection of joy itself. The reason it contains rejection is our incomplete relationship with joy.

The source of the incompleteness

This incomplete relationship to joy is shaped in our childhood through (false) beliefs like, for instance:

  • Joy is always/most often; expressive, loud, and clear
  • Joy arises in the more extreme moments of happiness
  • Joy is childish/immature
  • Joy is not the 'highest' state of being to reach for (more accepted states are, i.e., peace, gratitude, love, abundance, wisdom, and happiness)
  • Joy may turn into being destructive or disturbing, leading to harmful or disturbing behaviors/situations/interactions.

Transform the incompleteness

In reality, joy is hugely diverse. When we look at the origin of the word, we see joy as both the expression of pleasure and delight and as a source of pleasure or delight (see:

As children and adults, we tend to get much more feedback on the expression part. That is why we see 'joy' in an incomplete way.

The moments in which others typically responded to joy when we were young are:

when we were jumping up and down,
when we were running around,
when we were screaming or laughing frantically,
when we were dancing / playing / singing,
when we were being hyperactive.

As adults, the moments in which others typically respond to us being in joy are:

when we break out in (loud) laughter,
when we move our bodies in expressive ways while smiling
when we dance freely,
when we are hyperactive,
when we are engaging with others in a joyful way that ‘stands out’ / is expressive

So all this time, we tend to only get feedback on joy’s expressive part, while joy is so much more than this.

An embodied state of joy can be expressive at times but is very calm in general. Let’s say the more expressive moments are there 5% of the time. This means that 95% of the full spectrum of joy goes unseen.

This is why, when we lose touch with the other 95% of the state of joy, the 5% remaining can be so elusive.

The Joy escapism

So the incompleteness creates an exit, as mentioned. The exit is an ever-present opening that enables joy to escape or even subconsciously motivates us to escape joy, sometimes even before we experience it. The exit being ever-present is crucial to the escapism. It is because of the solidified presence of exits that escapism occurs.

How this works is as follows:

Joy is there; inside of you, it exists. It's like a little ball that resides in you. Picture it as a colorful, transparent marble. Sometimes it's more prominent, sometimes less.

Yet, this marble only represents the 5 to 10% of joy available to us—the part of the joy we are mostly acquainted with.

When joy wants to grow, the exit points work like joy-control units. They may 'tame the marble of joy,' withholding it from growing too large. Or they may suck out joy before it even starts to grow. Because the exits are always open (as part of our subconscious beliefs and constructs), we mostly won't experience the dynamics at play. So the escape dynamics may continuously suppress our joy or block our ability to be in joy.

Below are some examples of the many beliefs that can diminish our ability to experience joy:

That is what Joy Escapism is. It is joy with an escape exit, an escape into safer, more controllable, more respected, or accepted states. Doorways to states where we figure out more than let happen – feel more in control (and more anxious). The bigger the escape exits are, the smaller the chances of experiencing an embodied state of joy.

An embodied state of joy is a state of being in which joy is ever-present. It can grow or shrink and adapt in a way that is still in alignment with you but cannot easily be sucked out for long periods. It doesn't mean you are always joyful, but it does mean you will refind joy after or during challenging times more easily.

An embodied state of joy that overlaps the exits. Therefore the marble can still jump around, but the marble will not escape you. This way the exits at play will less likely turn your being into a dark, joyless space.

Escapism Joy

Then there is also the escapism joy. This occurs when joy is reached for or is attempted to be reeled in through an escape exit. The' joy' is forcefully attained when we are unhappy, restless, stressed, disappointed, fearful, and so on.

It is a type of 'joy' that seems to grow immensely in today's world and, to me, is painful to watch. The exits here look slightly different than the ones portrayed earlier. A couple of examples of escapism joy are:

  • I am getting as close to joy as I think or feel I can and let nothing get in the way of that.
  • I am getting as close to joy as I think or feel I can, and then I need to hold on to it. Because, in reality, there is a (significant) lack of solid, deep inner joy in my life.
  • What brought me joy yesterday should bring me joy today too. So I will keep doing this and expect to feel joyful again.
  • I am spreading my chances (and, therefore, my attention) over what could potentially bring me joy this week so that I don't have to fear missing out on joy.

So it's like reaching for joy by attempting to get to it through an escape exit.

All these examples have one common denominator: Fear.

The 'nothing in my way' escape entry.

Getting as close to joy as we think or feel we can and letting nothing get in the way of that.

Fear shows up here as the baseline principle. In this case, we do what we think brings us joy and feel there is a defense, some armor, some security needed to guard or obtain it. We believe that something could get in the way or that nothing should get in the way.

If there were no fear, neither of these beliefs would be necessary. The joy we may reach through this entry point is not sustainable and, in many cases, not even real.

The 'now that we got it, we need to hold on to it' escape entry.

We only need to hold on to the joy that arose or make it last as long as possible when we don't experience a more solidified sense of joy inside.

It portrays fear because we don't want it to escape. We only fear it escaping us when we indeed experience a lack of it.

Maybe you experienced this one yourself when you were at a great party:

You had so much fun, and you felt so free and joyful! Perhaps you felt you just had to stay until the end or go to an afterparty, even though you were exhausted. Or, it was so much fun you wanted even more of it. So, you drank a lot to increase the buzz or did some drugs at the party.

The next day you wake up; tired, of course, and maybe restless or down. Now you have to deal with what is called 'the comedown.' It literally explains the (unnatural) induced rise of state returning (coming back) to your 'normal' state. Where you may have to face, even more so, the actual baseline of how you feel.

The 'this thing I do needs to keep bringing me joy' escape entry.

If you find something that brings you joy, and you feel, therefore, it should keep bringing you joy, there also is fear present.

This often occurs when you have not experienced a lot of joy lately, and you found something that brings you joy. Now, you want to keep doing that 'thing' so that you keep experiencing joy.

Joy, however, when it's a more solidified state of being, does not need a specific subject. It can undoubtedly have particular subjects; this is not a problem in and of itself. The challenge arises (and the escape entry is created) when we feel the subject has to bring us joy. When we need the thing to bring us joy. It shows fear underneath because we attach to the subject in fear of losing the joy that was (once) attained through it.

The 'I am spreading my chances' escape entry

Some of us feel we need to spread our chances on options that could potentially bring us joy so that we don’t have to fear missing out on joy.

This obviously shows a mode of fear of missing out. And this fear increases the chance that what you fear indeed occurs. Through spreading attention and energy into different 'channels', the likelihood of missing out on experiencing the potential joy increases.

Spreading chances for joy is different from just planning lots of things. When you are spreading chances, in the way it is meant here, you: Intentionally seek to get something for yourself (joy) out of the situations, events, and people and do so by calculating the odds of success to get that something and by continually spreading your chances.

So this is done, for instance, by consistently having a lot of potential plans that you keep open-ended so that you won't have to miss out. This way, at any time, you can decide what to go for at the last minute: That which potentially serves you best. It can also show up in people who keep many relationships 'open' in this way.

This can be hurtful to you because you are less likely to commit to fully being present, really social, and open-hearted. Basically, you have already reduced your presence before you ever got to whatever you pick. In this way, you are also less present with yourself, which is always hurtful to you. You become like a ghost, haunting joy selfishly.

It is hurtful as well to the people you are engaging with in each of these moments. Because your motive is quite self-centered, basically each situation, event or person is a potential plan B: One of many options to reach your ‘A’. Which is in this case: To experience as much joy as possible or have the best experience of joy possible - putting yourself at the center and not so much taking others into account.

How to avoid joy escapism and escapism joy

Joy escapism, and escapism joy occur in all of us at times. In order to support ourselves in cultivating a more integrated sense of joy, here are some steps we can take:

Become aware of which of these exits are present in you, when they pop up, and what led to them popping up. Is it something that occurs more often?
If you are willing to cultivate a more integrated sense of joy, you could make your own joy escapism and escapism joy overview. You can find the downloadable format here (this week only), or subscribe to my newsletter to receive all printables weekly.
Allow yourself to feel the pain, hardship, and fears around joy. Like: Losing joy,
feeling like joy slips through your hands easily,
feeling undeserving of joy,
feeling joy is punished or seen as childish,
maybe feeling you lost an inner sense of joy long ago,
or the fear of never finding a more solid sense of joy,
your selfishness around it, the fears causing that selfishness,
your sacrifices around joy, and so on.
Take responsibility for the escapism and be forgiving to yourself at the same time. You can use a self-forgiveness exercise like the Hawaiian ho'oponopono to acknowledge the escapism you experienced and the hurt that this caused you and learn to forgive yourself for it.
Whenever you notice the escapism occurs, be grateful for seeing it. Smile about it and agree with yourself to keep being open to becoming more aware of it.
Ask yourself when it occurs (after acceptance and forgiveness): How did this escapism serve me, and how did it possibly NOT serve those around me?

I wish you a joyful week!