I believe we are naturally inclined to be joyful. So why does joy often seem so fleeting?
While each of our lives are uniquely individual, the principles of living joyfully are universal.
1) Be present to your life
2) Address behaviors that limit joy
These principles may sound simple, but they are not always easy to live by. If they were, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.
“Day 10 - Facing pain
Today, I completed the first 10 days of the GR10, covering 130 miles and 80,000 feet of accumulated elevation change.
I woke early, the pain in my legs more intense than the day before. Instantly, worries and doubt entered my mind like darkened clouds. With the countless mountains of the High Pyrenees ahead of me, how could I possibly continue for 40 more days like this?
I felt frustrated and deflated. I had spent so much time and energy preparing myself for this hike and now it seemed over before it even got started. Wanting to ease the pain and push away the voice of doubt, I reached for the painkillers.
But then I stopped.
The pain had only been getting worse during the last week. Something would have to change. At that moment, I chose to accept my aching knees and focus on what the pain was trying to tell me.”
Because I paid attention on that morning, I was able to complete my hike 36 days later. Much of the pain was caused by improper hiking technique, putting undue stress on joints and muscles. Instead of numbing out on medication, every painful step began to teach me what needed to change.
While the sharp pain subsided, my knees never stopped hurting altogether. However, my relationship to that pain changed fundamentally. Once I stopped fighting the reality of my pain and accepted it as part of the hike, I was able to take better care of myself.
More importantly, with the dark clouds gone, I was able to once again notice the beauty of the hike. My knees hurt and yet I felt joyful.
Shinzen Young describes my experience with a simple insightful equation based on the First Noble Truth from the Buddhist tradition:
Suffering = Pain x Resistance
I know - not the most joyous collection of words, but if there is one principle that holds the key to living more joyfully, this is it. And here is why.
Every day brings its own version of aching knees. It could be the unwanted effects of aging, working for an impossible boss, sitting in traffic and the list goes on. Every day we are faced with something, big or small, that we wish was different. That is what is meant by the term “pain”.
“Pain” is a reality of life and often it is out of our control. That is tough to swallow.
Our first reaction to “pain” is often resistance. “I didn’t deserve this”, “why is this happening to me?”. The more we resist or deny the reality of the “pain”, the more it consumes us. The initial “pain” has now multiplied and turned into suffering.
What troubles us, is most often not the actual “pain”, but the suffering caused by our obsessive agonizing over it.
The crucial and empowering difference between pain and suffering, is that while “pain” is often not in our control, suffering is. The moment you see that “pain” and suffering are not the same, you are no longer helplessly at the affect of the things in your life you wish were different.
However, to limit suffering we first have to accept the reality of the “pain” we are experiencing and that can be a challenge.
It is important to stress that acceptance is not necessarily the same as non-action. On the contrary. Once we accept the reality of the “pain”, we can take action to address its cause.
In my case, the worry and frustration about my ability to finish the hike did nothing to address the pain in my knees. Neither did my attempt to escape through medication.
Life brings with it challenges. That’s a fact. It can be painful and some things we will not be able to change. Seeing that “pain” and suffering are not the same, we can chose to live with less suffering and more joy.
The path to living more joyfully is paved with acceptance.
If you are ready to live with more joy, look carefully at a place in your life where you are struggling and ask yourself:
"What is it I need to accept?"