Anger isn’t the opposite of joy. Neither is sadness. People who lead joy-filled lives also can experience negative emotions. However, it is the absence of emotions that blocks joy. Unfortunately, too many of us have allowed ourselves to live in this state of apathy.
We shrug off our emotions with phrases like, ‘whatever’ or ‘it is what it is’. We crack self-deprecating jokes when our feelings are hurt. The problem with this is that emotional apathy eventually becomes the norm. It blocks negative emotions that may be difficult to deal with, but it also renders us unable to truly feel something positive.
If you feel bad, escape, ignore, or transcend. For many people, this is the ingrained way of dealing with stress, anger, or sadness. What we are finding out is that these methods aren’t very helpful. Instead of denying or using escapism, the key to getting through is to acknowledge and experience.
This is where mindfulness comes into play. Basically, mindfulness is a type of meditation. However, instead of visualizing something that you want to happen or imagining yourself into a relaxed and serene location, you focus on the moment. This means assessing exactly what you are thinking and feeling without judgment.
This technique is so successful that it has been shown to cause actual physical changes in the brain that allow people to better control their emotions.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. One is using more traditional meditation. Basically, you designate a time and place to meditate, focus on your breathing, and relax.
This is where things change. Once you are in a perfect state to begin meditating, you will focus on how you are feeling physically and emotionally. You will pay attention to your heart rate, the temperature of the room, and the thoughts in your head. In other words, you will be present and aware.
Another way to practice mindfulness might be dubbed, ‘mindfulness in action’. This can be a bit more difficult because it means implementing mindfulness during times when negative emotions are peaking. For example, if a friend says something that hurts your feelings.
It may be difficult in that moment to practice mindfulness. After all, it is much easier to shrug off hurt and sadness by saying or thinking something dismissive than it is to be in the moment and to experience it. Remember, by using mindfulness techniques and experiencing the negative emotions, you can overcome them and control them more easily.
Explore The Source of Your Apathy
However, being mindful of your emotions is not always enough. Most of the time, there is an organic cause for emotional apathy. It is strongly associated with depression, but there are also other factors to consider. For example, sometimes the mind uses apathy as a way to cope with high levels of anxiety. Think of a power strip becoming overloaded, then just shutting down. Poor nutrition and lack of energy can be causes as well. So, being aware of your emotions and physical state will make it easier for you to identify the sources of your apathy.
One way to gain the insights that you need to discover the true cause of your apathy is to use the mindfulness techniques and meditation mentioned above. These will help keep you tuned into your feelings and experiences. Keeping a detailed and honest journal can also help. Not only is journaling cathartic but also it becomes a written record of your emotions and daily habits. This can be very helpful when you are trying to connect the dots and find the source of your lack of feelings.
Once you’ve recognized the cause, you can start creating a plan to deal with the issues you have identified.
Recognize And Create Opportunities For Joy
Make sure that your plan includes different ways and opportunities for making you happy. During your life, you may have been told that being happy is a decision that people make and as corny as it sounds, this is true. People who are happy don’t just wait for good things to happen to them, they seek them out.
They engage in activities that make them feel good. For example, go to movies, read books, and consume other things that improve their mood and outlook on life. They also embrace the opportunity to try new things, they make plans. Try to do something you have never done before, like go paragliding, start a new career, even if it’s something as simple as private tutoring, or simply put yourself out there.
Implementing this can be as simple as pursuing new (or old) hobbies, being aware of and attending events in your community, and fighting the urge to turn down invitations. Not everything you try is going to be to your liking, but with a positive attitude, you’ll find some things that you truly enjoy.
Reach Out to Others
Keep in mind, the likelihood of you having opportunities to have joyful experiences depends largely on your relationships with other people.
People who have lots of positive relationships tend to be happier overall, regardless of what is going on in their lives. They are also more resilient when they have experienced something negative. Furthermore, engaging in the community, developing your hobbies, putting yourself out there, and sticking to your plan of eliminating apathy is much easier when you have friends around you.
Friendships and romantic relationships are definitely important. Just keep in mind that they aren’t your only options for connecting with other people. Consider doing volunteer work as a way of giving yourself new opportunities to form human connections.
Ensure Your Actions Have Purpose
Merely existing leads to apathy. As mentioned above, apathy then leads to closing ourselves off to all emotions. The way to avoid existing is to replace it with actively living.
Take a look at the truly happy people around you. If you ask them how they spend their time, you will find that they do very little that involves sitting around or engaging in mundane activities. Here’s a good question to ask yourself. What did you do yesterday?
If you honestly cannot remember much, it might be time to evaluate your actions. There’s not much joy to be found in hanging out or not doing much of anything at all. If you can’t remember what you did, you may not be doing much that is memorable. Thus, this brings us back to our plan of filling our lives with various activities.
Every person has the potential to live a joyful life. If you think about it, people with devastating disabilities, people who have survived atrocities, even those who are facing terminal diagnoses have found ways to live active, happy lives.
Leonard Cohen once said, “We’re always experiencing joy or sadness. But there are lots of people who’ve closed won. And there are times in one’s life when one has to close down just to regroup.”
His words make a lot of sense, as long as you don’t forget the final three words, ‘just to regroup’. The people who are able to do that, won’t struggle with emotional apathy. This requires self-awareness, a willingness to act on what you learn about yourself, and a willingness to pursue happiness.