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3 Ways Your Brain Hijacks Joy

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

When was the last time you felt joy?

First, let’s talk about what joy is, and what joy is not.

Joy is NOT happiness. It is not a fleeting emotion that is dependent on your mood and what is happening in your life - good or not so great.

Joy IS a way of living.

Joy is:

  • Understanding that no matter what happens in life, you will move through it the best way you can.

  • Giving yourself permission to be sad, grieve and be angry, but knowing that this is one moment in a lifetime of moments.

  • Having compassion for other people - but for yourself most of all.

  • Resilience and flowing through the good, and the not so great, with intention.

Joy is a way of thinking, doing and believing. Finding joy means retraining your brain. But first, you need to know how your brain is hijacking your joy.

1. Focusing on the negative

One way the brain can keep us from joy is by focusing on the negative. Our brains are wired to pay more attention to potential threats than to positive experiences. Seriously…crazy, right? The brain is expertly designed to avoid danger (like Saber-Toothed Tigers) and stay alive, but in modern times, it can lead to a sense of constant worry and a lack of joy. When we're constantly on the lookout for potential problems, we miss out on the good things happening around us.

So how do you stop looking for that tiger? We need to train our brains to focus on the positive. One way to do this is by practicing gratitude. Make a list (write it out, the brain works better) Thinking about the things we're thankful for can help shift our attention away from the negative and towards the positive.

2. Thinking over and over about the past

Another way the brain can keep us from joy is by ruminating on the past. It's natural to reflect on past experiences and try to learn from them, but when we get stuck in a cycle of negative self-talk and regret, it can be difficult to find joy in the present moment.

You know how this goes: that big mistake that you wish you hadn’t made? Our brains get in the habit of thinking about it over and over (and over) and considering other ways it could have turned out. Guess what? That’s some serious wasted energy on something you can’t change.

To break free from this cycle, we need to practice self-grace. Instead of beating ourselves up for past mistakes, we need to start saying, “I did the best I could with the capacity I had at that moment. Next time, I’ll do better.” That new mantra will replace the negative one about the past.

3. Comparing ourselves to others

Don’t think you compare yourself to others? Maybe…or maybe that comparison is such a part of your brain that you don’t notice. It's natural to look at what other people are doing and feel like we're not measuring up, but this kind of thinking can be a joy-killer. When we're constantly comparing ourselves to others, we miss out on the unique experiences and opportunities that are available to us.

To overcome this, we need to practice self-acceptance. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, we need to focus on our own strengths and talents. It's important to remember that we all have something unique to offer the world, and that our value doesn't depend on how we measure up to others.

There are many ways that the brain can keep us from experiencing the journey to joy, but there are ways we can retrain that brain. Would love to hear which ones you tried and how it worked for you!


Mar 01, 2023

Love this! Thank you for clearly explaining and giving tips.

Mattie Cummins
Mattie Cummins
Mar 08, 2023
Replying to

I'm so glad this helped!!!


My faith has helped me to live a life of more joy. Romans chapter 8, verse 28 says in effect "all things work together for good to those that love the Lord." Then factor in the COMMAND Jesus made to us to NOT WORRY. For decades I took that as a "suggestion" and worried all the time, but since realizing that it is a command not a suggestion, I have made an intentional decision to NOT worry! Life is much better now, that I TRUST God's promise that even "bad" things will work out to our advantage. I have been in a legal battle with some relatives for over 5 years who are trying to get money from my mother's…

Mattie Cummins
Mattie Cummins
Mar 01, 2023
Replying to

This is definitely a part of joy - trust! Such a beautiful testament to your faith.

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