In times of trouble, it can be tremendously difficult to see the forest through that thick stand of trees – giant leafy Southern Oaks if you’re “down South” like us.

Mix in a pandemic with the natural bumpy road called Life, and those happy feelings can get lost in the exhaust –and exhaustion. But maybe it’s not “happy” toward which we should set our GPS.

There’s a wonderful little quote: Joy is a choice purposefully made -and that’s a different thing than being happy.

Happy.

Happy depends upon external factors. It most often happens to us, whereas joy is a decisive action –I decide that despite the rain and my flat tire on my way to visit mom, I choose to focus on a loving visit ahead. It’s opting to feel gratitude about answering dad’s same question over and over because the time it takes means more time together and eases his anxiety from dementia.

You get the idea.

Grasping Onto Joy
Getting your hands upon joy can, at first, feel like grasping for slippery soap as feelings of negativity bubble to the surface. This reaction is expected, for we are wired for survival. Our brains are always looking for trouble to avoid and things to fix.

But instead of heading down that anxious, grumpy slope, those expert folks who study emotional and mental states counsel us to use “thought-stopping” and redirection to help release our mind’s hold on difficult things.

Stop that Thought
When we become frustrated, those accompanying negative feelings are bathed in hormones produced before and after the actual emotion we feel. Our goal is to interrupt and redirect the associated hormonal release rather than stuffing the feelings down; the latter can lead to stress-induced illness or outbursts.

Acknowledging your frustration and then saying aloud “Stop” or creating a diversion –walk exactly 10 steps or spell your name aloud under your breath –can help disrupt a negative mental state. Then, it’s up to you to intentionally place your focus on something for which you’re grateful. Yep, it is work, but all genuinely wonderful things take effort. And, it’s worth it.

Monitor Your Life
In addition to paying attention to your emotional state, watch out for Real Life, which can bring negativity in the form of social media, news, gossip, and the like. Avoid the unhappy; remember, it’s external to you.

Be the one to bring joy into other’s lives, and watch how your own becomes more constant, life becomes richer, and you become more present. And oh, what a joyful noise that will make.