Day 163/365 Atrophy of The Joy Muscle

Today I was listening to a commencement speech and the speaker quoted Kipling, “Meet triumph and disaster, and treat both those imposters the same…”

It reminded me of a story I read recently…

An old farmer had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Initially I loved that story.  It is a wonderful lesson in remaining calm and living in a state of non-judgement. Nobel indeed, and I can fully appreciate the thought of not getting swept up emotionally in the (apparent) peaks and valleys in one’s life.

He is at peace with whatever happens…unattached to it.


I kind of like the peaks and valleys. They make me feel alive.

I’m not saying that I wish for things in my life that will cause me pain and sorrow.  Rather, when those things (inevitably) happen, I am growing more comfortable with allowing myself to experience a full range of emotions.

I have learned an awful lot about myself through experiencing, and emerging from, the caverns of anger, anxiety and depression.

What I do like about the farmer is he doesn’t worry about what will come next…he simply says, “Maybe” (or we’ll see..).  Again, his lack of attachment to the outcomes is admirable, but me…I want to be an optimist. I want to believe that good things will happen…not just that things will happen. Inherent in that is knowing that bad things will happen too.

I like the fact that he is at peace knowing that whatever happens, he will be okay.


With all the peaks and valleys (a lot of valleys) I’ve experienced lately, I believe the key to happiness is actually developing a baseline not of neutrality or indifference, but of joy.

It can be hard to get back into this mindset when you’ve been low for a while. It is easy to expect good things when everything is going well. The stumbling block many of us face is in finding some joy momentum when things have been…well, shitty.

I think this is because joy is like a muscle. 
When we don’t exercise it, it begins to atrophy.
Just like going for a run, a yoga class, or to the gym is undeniably good for you – especially during busy or stressful times – so too is exercising joy.  

The problem is we don’t always feel like doing it (much like running, yoga, and the whole gym thing). We know it’ll make us feel better, but we feel uninspired, or we convince ourselves that we don’t have time, we’re too tired, we’ll do it tomorrow, etc.
So, here’s what I’ve been doing to exercise my joy muscle…
As I go through my day, I try to notice any little moments in which I feel joy.  I bring my awareness to the moment and I soak it up. I might even say to myself, “This” and I take a mental picture (or an actual picture).
I notice how the joy feels in my body…because feelings of joy ignite our pleasure sensors and leave us wanting more of the same.
So, I’m working on that joy baseline…that expectation of good things. Sometimes I’ll be disappointed, angry, anxious, depressed…but the stronger I can make that joy muscle, the easier it will always be to come back to as my default setting.
Joy begets joy
The more joy we seek, the more joy we notice;
The more joy we notice, the more joy we feel.