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  • susan

4 Strategies for Cultivating Joy in Difficult Times - Part I

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

Joy is our birthright when we come into this world. And then life’s sh*t happens, and we cover over our natural state with limiting beliefs:

“I’m too busy to stop and enjoy.”

“I’m too overwhelmed and stressed to feel joy.”

“My life is too difficult and painful for joy.”

“My past traumas, shame, blame, and resentments stop me from having joy in my life.”

“I don’t deserve joy.”

“I don’t have enough to be joyful about.”

“Joy is for others, but not for me.”

“Joy is selfish.”

"Something bad will happen if I have too much joy."

“I feel guilty to be joyful when those around me are hurting.”

“There’s too much suffering and chaos in the world for me to experience joy.”

“There’s something in the way of me feeling joy but I don’t know what it is.”

Any of this sound familiar? On and on we go with our “stinking thinking,” until we sap ourselves dry of our natural state. And before we know it, life's joy passes us by without us realizing it.


No one is joyful all the time, but joy can be cultivated so that even in difficult times we can experience moments of relief to help us get through the darkness. Joy doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It can be experienced on a spectrum, from bursting with joy and wonder to the light, quiet, peaceful inside joy, and to everything in-between.

One of my teachers, Jack Kornfield, wrote in his book, The Wise Heart, “When love meets pain it becomes compassion. When love meets happiness, it becomes joy. Joy is an expression of the awakened heart, a quality of enlightenment. When we live in the present, joy often arises for no reason. This is the happiness of consciousness that is not dependent on particular conditions.” In other words, happiness relies on the external environment to bring us delight. Joy is an “internal job” stemming from an open heart not closed down by life, regardless of outward circumstances. If we stop for a moment to “smell the roses” in our life, it gives space for the possibility of joy to arise. And there are always the smallest of “roses” present, even if it’s just the joy of feeling your breath's inhale and exhale.


My mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was 12 years old and subsequently died. In the interim, I was her full-time caretaker because my father needed to work, and we couldn’t afford in-home assistance. I came home from school, cooked, cleaned, did my homework, slept with my mom because she moaned all night, dressed, bathed and fed her, and took care of all her needs. There was no time for my needs as a pre-teen with raging hormones, and I was often resentful and nasty, especially towards my mom. When she died, I blamed myself for being so “rotten” to her, and now she was gone. For years, this guilt tormented me and ruled every aspect of my life without me realizing it. I became an overachieving perfectionist with no time for real self-care, including joy. In my 40s I was miserable. I decided to attend a 30-day silent meditation retreat (yes, I survived it, LOL!). During the retreat my back went out, I could barely sit or stand, and I had an intestinal flu. In the wee hours of the morning, I was doubled over in bed with pain. At my lowest point, I felt my mother’s presence descend to gently surround and caress me. I cried in despair and begged for forgiveness. She responded that there was nothing to forgive, and her loving presence held me closer. When I arose for the coming day, some of the physical pain remained, but the suffering was gone. I was finally free. Most importantly, I had forgiven myself. I noticed for the first time the vivid shades of color on the trees next to the retreat meditation room and experienced the sacredness of every second. And my body felt a big inner smile – not overflowing, but a quiet, steady inside joy. My heart had awakened to all the possibilities of allowing joy. I also understood that my heart was big enough to hold multiple emotions simultaneously – physical and emotional pain mixed with the joy of just being.


Joy is a choice. What's your story about why you don’t choose more joy in your life? What’s limiting you? Stay tuned for Part 2 about why joy is so important, how to identify your stories, and the specific strategies to cultivate joy in your life.



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