Factor Four: Find your joy.

Bono Joy(1)-2

The fourth of the Five Factors that I believe distinguishes successful individuals, leaders, and attorneys is that they have an activity (or activities), in addition to and outside of their daily work, that allows them to experience joy.

What do I mean by, joy, and why am I using that word? Isn’t that the same as doing something that makes you happy? Well, in some important ways, joy can differ from happiness and defining what we mean by joy can be challenging.

The American Psychological Association (APA) provides a rather lengthy, academic definition:

A feeling of extreme gladness, delight, or exultation of the spirit arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction. The feeling of joy may take two forms: passive and active. Passive joy involves tranquility and a feeling of contentment with things as they are. Active joy involves a desire to share one’s feelings with others. It is associated with more engagement of the environment than is passive joy. The distinction between passive and active joy may be related to the intensity of the emotion, with active joy representing the more intense form. Both forms of joy are associated with an increase in energy and feelings of confidence and self-esteem.

(Emphasis supplied.)

David Brooks recently wrote eloquently about the possible distinction between joy and happiness. He observed:

“Happiness usually involves a victory for the self. Joy tends to involve the transcendence of self. Happiness comes from accomplishments. Joy comes when your heart is in another. Joy comes after years of changing diapers, driving to practice, worrying at night, dancing in the kitchen, playing in the yard and just sitting quietly together watching TV. Joy is the present that life gives you as you give away your gifts. The core point is that happiness is good, but joy is better. It’s smart to enjoy happiness, but it’s smarter still to put yourself in situations where you might experience joy.

I happen to love the quote above from the singer Bono, which perhaps best encapsulates what I am talking about with the fourth of the Five Factors. Joy, he told Rolling Stone, “is life force itself.”

Others agree with the necessity of creating opportunities to tap into this life force and experience joy. Yale University’s popular class on happiness (which begins today and is available online for free), has distilled principles to live a happier life into an academic setting. Among them: investing in experiences that create the opportunity to experience joy.

That may be (and hopefully includes) time with family, as David Brooks observes. It may be and often is, an activity that involves self-mastery and a state of “flow” that transcends self. In many cases, it may include experiential activities like travel, hiking, other physical challenges or even playing music. Those activities and experiences where we feel most connected to life.

To return to our sailing analogy, feelings of happiness and the experience of joy are the crew moving to the high side of the boat when it’s under sail. They provide the balance and enhance the steadiness of the journey. Finding time for these activities, throwing oneself into them and creating openness to the experience of joy is necessary to counteract the forces in our lives that reduce joy.

This is essential for attorneys. Unless you are working solely on adoptions (and perhaps even then), attorneys are often professionally consumed by the situations in life where there is not only very little joy but often tremendous conflict and pain. It becomes all too easy to absorb that negative energy, and you can feel it sapping your own. In those circumstances, the statistics tell us that far too many attorneys are turning to maladaptive behaviors – use of drugs, alcohol, etc. – that provide quick hits of positive neurotransmitters and a fleeting feeling of artificial joy.

However, when we study successful attorneys, we find them engaged in all sorts of activities where they open themselves to true experiences of joy: travel, physical and athletic challenges, family activities like coaching youth sports teams, and a whole host of other experiences where joy is just around the corner.

So what gives you joy? How would you score yourself on this important factor?

If you are feeling the effects of stress and feeling like your energy is depleted, then maybe take a step back and look at the opportunities that you are allowing in your life to experience joy.

Yes, busy schedules burden us. Yes, there is often too much work and too little time. But just tapping into a little joy each day – that livewire feeling of being connected to life force itself – can go a long way toward restoring our energy and our zest for life.

(Photo credit: John Mudd)

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