An Alternative to Right and Wrong – Part 2 – The Joy Test

Plan management trainee, nancy from Ghana and me
Creative Commons License photo credit: Frerieke

In part 1 of this series I explored internal alignment as an alternative to thinking in terms of absolutes.  I invited you to see all judgments as a matter of individual perspective and a chance to move away from the narrowness of right and wrong, black and white, either/or.  Then I suggested that if you’re going to peg your internal barometer to one thing, if you’re going to pick one state by which to measure your alignment, make it joy.  But many are asking “Why joy? And how do I know the real thing?”

Contrary to most mass religions and popular belief, I believe our human journey is not intended to be a path of suffering, nor a massive test we’re supposed to pass.  Whether you honor your inner guidance system or not, however, will determine if you make it into one.  And of course, it is absolutely your choice to believe as you wish.  (Recognize, however, as you believe so you will create.)

The good news is, we haven’t been sent here without an internal guidance system. We all have one – our emotions. Those emotions we call “negative” are there to steer us away from what is out of alignment with a joyful human experience. Those emotions we label “positive” are steering us too – toward what is in alignment with our true natures.

I invite you to consider that joy is our natural, intended state. We’re here to be happy.  For those who accept that, the challenge is three-fold: 1) understanding what joy is and isn’t, 2) figuring out what uniquely brings them joy, and 3) choosing joy.

Understanding What Joy Really Is

To be clear, when I say “joy” I mean authentic and lasting happiness, not the temporary satisfaction brought on by greed, lust, addiction or domination.  True, you might be thinking a college scholarship for you or your child could make you pretty darn happy, or that a new pair of designer shoes could really light up your month.  A shiny red Ferrari can make most people feel what they would describe as joyful, but eventually the huge monthly insurance payments or repair bills kick in, what was once a dream becomes a daily familiarity, and suddenly the joy has evaporated.

If what you call “joy” is fleeting, conditional, or does harm to yourself or others in the process of attaining it, it probably isn’t joy. Instead, it’s likely an ego-driven desire.  And therein lies most of the confusion around happiness in general.

So the challenge many of us face is recognizing joy – real joy – in the first place.  We can’t go be and do what brings joy if we don’t know what it is.  Here’s my litmus test.

Joy is:

  • Free – you don’t have to spend time, money, or anything else to get it
  • Spontaneous – it bubbles up when you least expect it.  Conversely, you can’t force it
  • Effortless – you don’t have to do anything to attain it.  Like a rainbow, it just shows up
  • Unlimited – there’s an infinite supply, and it’s always available
  • Evergreen – while what brings joy might vary from person to person, what brings you joy usually doesn’t change
  • Its Own Reward – it is neither a means to an end nor an end achieved by means.  Joy alone is enough

Discovering What Brings You Joy

Here’s another way to determine authentic joy from ego-driven desires.  Your true essence naturally seeks joy and knows the real thing when it feels it but your ego can get confused or in the way, often equating fame, fortune or other external conditions with joy.  Even if you’re feeling authentic joy from the little things, your ego might pipe up with the deceptive “it can’t be this easy”.

Many of the rich and famous will tell you that imagining being rich and famous is more joy-inducing and inspiring than being rich and famous.  That’s because joy is in the moment – it’s the feeling you get from simple pleasures like a baby’s laugh or a stroll on the beach.  Ego gratification on the other hand is more complex, and involves a process, or steps, or accomplishments and planning, all of which is neither simple nor momentary.

The next time you’re faced with a decision as mundane as whether to go to the grocery store or take a walk in the woods, or as serious as whether to move up a rung on the corporate ladder or start your own business, give it the “internal alignment” test.  Forget for a minute your external circumstances like money, image and obligation, and ask yourself one elemental question, which choice leads to joy? Your heart will tell you loud and clear.

Once you know with brings you joy, aligning with it can be a moment-by-moment choice, useful in all circumstances and for many types of decisions and increasingly valuable as we’re bombarded with the daily barrage of negativity, judgment and celebrity sleaze that passes for “news”.  The next time anything comes into your experience that triggers strong emotions, step back and witness what you’re feeling for a second.  Then start your (re-)alignment process:

  1. Does what you’re feeling have the characteristics of joy described above?  Or, is there a feeling of need, greed, obligation or lack accompanying it?
  2. Which position, thought or choice makes you feel the lightness of being and unlimited possibility?
  3. What are you so passionate about – regardless of your existing circumstances and/or obligations – that it makes you euphoric just to think about it?
  4. Which choice would bring forth happiness – not simply your own, but that of others as well?

After you’ve honestly answered those questions, you’ll know which thoughts, actions and decisions are in alignment with joy and which are not.

Choosing the Joy

Once you’ve aligned (or re-aligned) with joy, it’s up to you to follow your bliss even if your decision to walk in the woods means the kids have to eat grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner again because you didn’t make it to the grocery, or your co-workers tell you you’re crazy to give up your stock award and start a business in this economy.  Those well meaning observers (much like your ego) are just trying to protect you from all sorts of nasties like failure and fear, but now you know a way to turn that doesn’t require protection.  Fine-tune your inner alignment to keep reaching in the direction of your joy.

Then after you’ve practiced this for a few days, weeks or months tell me – isn’t it easier not to judge and argue? Do you still care who’s right and who’s wrong? Most of all, what has changed for you and how?  Tell me in comments.