Stop Worrying and Experience More Joy.
“The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.” ~ Robert Frost
There was a point in my life when I couldn’t experience joy.
For example, during a vacation on the coast of Italy, with beautiful scenery, food, and people, everything was perfect except for the beauty and joy that couldn’t penetrate me no matter how hard I tried.
It felt like there was a barrier between me and the world. On this vacation, I could see all of the gorgeous visual cues, sense the warm sun on my skin, taste the delightfulness of the new cuisine.
Yet, if I was honest, I wasn’t moved by the experience, rather I was just observing it.
I recall desperately wanting to feel exuberance and aliveness coursing through my veins, especially since I believed I worked hard for the vacation and deserved every second of it!
Of the 14 days on this vacation, I recall only one moment when I felt a deep sense of joy.
I share my experience because I know some of you can relate.
In working with my clients, I hear a variety of similar sentiments: “I want to experience more joy,” “It’s hard for me to experience joy,” and “I feel like I’m not fully enjoying my life.”
And I get it.
I’m going to share with you what prevented me from feeling joy and what’s helped me get to the other side of that block.
Some Thoughts Kill Joy
One of the reasons why I was unable to feel joy was because I wasn’t present.
Put another way, I couldn’t enjoy myself because I was in my head, fully engaged with my thoughts, rather than experiencing life with my entire body.
This might sound abstract, but it’s not.
The present moment (now) is the only time when our hearts can be touched and moved by beauty.
When I was absorbed in my thoughts, I was transported out of the present moment into the past or the future with my many could have, would have, should have or what if scenarios playing in my head.
When I was living in my head, I was able to understand beauty, but the beauty bypassed my heart, so I couldn’t feel it.
It’s important to note that not all thoughts kill joy, but there’s a type of thought that’s a surefire way to kill joy, and it’s worrying.
If you can relate to any of this, you’ll be interested in the following as I deconstruct how to worry less and experience more joy.
“Worry pretends to be necessary, but serves no useful purpose.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Worrying Is the Culprit
One of the most common phenomena in our modern life is our inability to stay in the present moment.
Some people do it more than others, but we all do this.
Some would go so far as to say that our modern life infrastructure depends on the hope that we’re not present. This way, we don’t pay attention to what’s happening to our food system, medical system, and educational system for the benefit of big corporations and to the detriment of the people.
This way, we have a reason to continue to make mindless purchases, numb, and attempt to fill up our feelings of fear and emptiness with the consumption of more goods (but that’s a sharp right turn of a tangent, so let’s come back).
If we want a source to blame for not being present, we can pin worrying down as the culprit.
Have you noticed that when you’re worrying, you get lost in your mind, become forgetful, lose focus on the task at hand, and usually become anxious and unhappy shortly after?
What Do We Worry About?
We worry about a bunch of different things, as I’m sure you know, but worrying boils down to three common themes:
You compare yourself with your past self, ideal self, or other people.
A sign that comparison is stealing your joy:
Your measure of success is based on someone else’s life. “Why am I not as beautiful, successful, charismatic, funny, lucky as her?”
2. Judgment You’re harsh and unforgiving toward yourself, and oftentimes others.
A sign that judgment is stealing your joy: You’re shoulding on your joy. I should have done this, I should not have worn that, I should have said this, I should not have written that.
You’re in survival mode because you think there’s not enough.
A sign that scarcity is stealing your joy: You think there’s not enough to go around. There’s not enough for me, We can’t both win, A good thing doesn’t last, I need to acquire as much as I can (a perfect example is our recent TP shortage during the ongoing quarantine).
Why Do We Worry?
No matter what you’re worried about — comparison, judgment or scarcity — the underlying cause of worry is fear.
Fear is the emotion that we feel when we believe we’re not good enough, we don’t belong, or we’re unsafe.
This is a powerful emotion because it’s primal, and it was programmed in us at a very young age as we learned how to survive and make our mark in this world.
How to Stop Worrying?
It’s simple to stop worrying, but not easy.
Step 1: Bring your attention to the present moment
Become aware when fear arises, it’s likely that you’re worrying. Notice when you’re indulging in fear-based thoughts, and gently bring your attention back to the present moment. Ground yourself in your:
- Breath (which only happens in the present)
- Senses — what you see, touch, hear, taste, smell
- Body — notice what’s going in your body (tension, tightness, tingling, lightness, butterflies, etc.)
Step 2: Go in the direction of love
Once you’re grounded in the present moment, follow in the direction of love.
Meet the energy of worry with the energy of love to transmute it.
Let your inner love direct you, because it’s always right.
If it seems abstract again, you’ll see very soon that it’s not.
In Every Moment, You Can Either Choose Love or Fear
To paraphrase Marianne Williamson, with every moment and every choice, there are two paths — of love and of fear.
Love is anything that makes you feel more connected to your core, your heart, and your soul. There are many different types of love. But the common trait of love is that it makes you feel bigger, brighter, and more expansive.
When we choose fear, we take ourselves out of the present into a false world of darkness, loneliness, and separation — our very own version of hell. Fear always makes us feel smaller, dimmer or constricted.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fear. There’s a time and place for fear. It’s a natural response that can save our lives.
The problem is that we’re not meant to be fearful all of the time in the natural world. However, in the modern world, we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that there’s a lot more to fear than what’s helpful.
How to Choose Love
In every moment, ask yourself: What’s the direction of love? In difficult moments, ask yourself: What’s the tiniest step I can take in the direction of love? Maybe it’s to:
- Take a deep breath
- Open the windows
- Show up
- Make that phone call
- Jump in the water
- Bathe in the sunlight
- Take that photo
- Laugh out loud
- Shed those tears
- Pick up that instrument
- Move the body
- Paint that picture
- Decorate that space
- Kiss that person
- Take that chance
- Share that secret
- Adopt that animal
- Plant that tree
- Take a bath
- Drink a green juice
- Share that thought
- Reach out to that person
- Express my perspective
- Meet that person
- Sign up for that course
- Write that story
- Trust the Universe
- Tell the truth
Or maybe it’s something else completely. Either way, lean toward what’s calling out to your entire body.
Transmute Fear by Meeting It With Love
When I reflect back to that vacation I mentioned at the beginning, when I was unable to let joy into my heart, it was because I was worrying about:
- Capturing perfect photos that will last a lifetime
- Choosing the best-rated restaurants
- Missing out on activities we hadn’t thought of
- Missing out on must-see locations
- Looking too much like a tourist
- Not appreciating the vacation enough
- Not having enough fun
- Possibilities of rain
- Getting an authentic experience
- If it was the right location for our vacation in the first place (would we have more fun at the Galapagos?)
As you can see now, they were all fear-based thoughts. And they were the barriers between me and my experiences.
Fear and worrying were what prevented me from enjoying the moment.
Of course, I still worry from time to time — I’m human after all.
But instead of worrying on my vacations, I now strive to meet my worries with love:
- I put away my phone and soak in the beauty of the sunset
- I savor the beautiful flavors and think about how the nutrients will fuel, repair and strengthen my body
- I take a moment to feel grateful for the experience
- I pay attention to what’s happening right now and catch witty, funny, beautiful moments
- I do the thing that’s calling out for my heart
- I might consult Google, but my intuition has the final vote
- I embrace and accept how I look — tourist or otherwise
- I look for all the things that are going well
- I let go of expectations, and I’m usually surprised and delighted
Love transmutes the energy of fear, and transforms our reality.
This was my experience. Everyone is on their own unique journey, so what’s going on for you could be different from what I’ve experienced. However, what’s worth considering if you want to feel more joy are your habits around worrying and what’s driving it underneath.
Let me know if this resonated with you in any way.
Ruth Kao Barr is the founder of My Breathing Mind and a wellbeing & mind coach specializing in stress and trauma. She helps busy people clear the noise and reconnect with what matters most. Review your (free) Wholeness Profile here or follow her on Instagram where she regularly publishes well-being tips and mini-blogs.