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A Joyful Life
by Dan Jones • Austin, TX

Some people seem to have more joy than others. Do you ever wonder why? Studies consistently show that joy is not related to gender, age or race. Men and women, young and old, people of all colors– no group is more joyful than any other group. Joy is also not related to wealth, education or religious affiliation– the rich, the educated, those who profess a certain creed are just as prone to anxiety and depression as anyone else.

What then, is joy, and where does it come from? The answer is simple and is basically good common sense.

We all notice that we have an energy level that fluctuates up and down, and we have a tension level that fluctuates up and down. The word joy describes how we feel when energy is greater than tension. We may have lots of tension, but if our energy level is even higher, we can handle it. We may even welcome stressors as challenges. We may have low energy, but if our tension is even lower, we can have a peaceful, quiet joy. If your energy is very high and your tension level very low, you will experience bliss. If you have very low energy and very high tension, you will feel depressed.

The way of staying in joy is this: Think habitually of raising energy and lowering tension. You can use this in all kinds of ways– for example, in your choices of work, friends, home life, daily
schedule, food, exercise, emotional release, breathing, reading and music, spiritual beliefs and practices.

There has always been lots of advice about how to live, but really, we all do the best we can with the energy/tension state we have. In a high-energy/ low-tension state, we are naturally cheerful, optimistic, forgiving, patient, grateful and compassionate. We think clearly, calmly, courageously and creatively. Work and relationships go well and life seems very simple.

In a low-energy/high-tension state, it feels like something is wrong or missing and needs to be fixed or found. We try to make things happen, but no matter how much we do, it’s never enough, and this makes us anxious, critical, needy, impatient, controlling, self-centered, in a hurry and tired. We dream of being heroes or of being rescued. Thinking is worried and repetitive, and we drift into addictions. Work and relationships are a struggle, and life seems very complicated.

Please notice: These are not moral qualities or character traits– they’re signs of where we are on the energy/tension scale. Seeing this, we can become less interested in judging ourselves and others, and more interested in helping ourselves and others to lower tension and raise energy.

What are people really like? Are we naturally self-centered or altruistic? Well, it’s a law that attention goes to trouble. This has obvious survival value, but it also means that a person in a low-energy/high tension state will necessarily have their attention on themselves, where the trouble is. And when that state is chronic, then attention is chronically inward, and the person becomes known as self-centered. When that person moves to a high-energy/low-tension state, the trouble is gone, and their attention naturally turns outward. The person becomes more altruistic.

If there seems to be so little altruism in the world, it’s because there is so much tension, and because most of us are so unaware of how much tension we’re used to carrying in our bodies. It’s the same with arrogance and humility, greed and generosity– they’re not moral qualities or character traits, but signs of where we are on the energy/tension scale. The same goes with other polar opposites: anxiety and serenity, criticism and appreciation, depression and delight, fear and trust, anger and forgiveness, judgment and compassion. These are not things to blame or pride ourselves or others for, but signals of the energy/tension balance. Without changing that balance, we can will ourselves to make changes in short bursts, but we don’t sustain them.

Some of us live in a fairly steady state on the energy/tension scale. We think of the results of that balance as our personality, character, identity, fate, or "just the way life is"– what we have to struggle with. We develop a philosophy of life that assumes that the things that go with our place on the scale are Certainties.

Others of us have big swings in energy and tension, and we’re never quite sure who we really are. We develop a philosophy of life that features Change and says you can never be too sure of anything.We all have the potential of every possible state of being, depending on our energy/tension state. We all have the potential to live in peace, joy and love. So, what can we do to manage our tension and energy?

Some things that we can do immediately are:

• We can breathe deep and free and easy.

• We can sit, stand or walk in a balanced way that minimizes tension.

• We can laugh at whatever we are taking too seriously (my opinions, my plans, my schedule for when everything should happen, etc.)

• We can relax the muscles in our face, shoulders, etc. We can stretch and yawn. Fear is just tension. Tension is frozen energy.

• We can cut our list of things to do, we can do just one thing at a time.

• We can contact our Higher Power and let go and turn something over and feel the relief that comes from that. Rhythmic, silent prayer along with deep, easy breathing can be very calming.There are things we can do on a daily basis as well:

• We can take time to renew.

• We can find or create a safe place to release emotional tensions so we don’t store them up and become emotionally charged or reactive.

• We can exercise in a way and for a time that energizes and relaxes us for hours afterwards.

• We can eat foods that deliver a calm, lasting energy (taking with a grain of salt the one-size-fits-all diets and experimenting to find what foods fit us personally.)

• We can find music, books, radio, TV and movies that relax or energize us (never listen to, read, or watch things that tense or drain you just because everyone else is!)

There are also more long-term things we can do:

• We can begin insisting that home be a safe place, a place where we consistently compliment and thank and encourage one another, a place where it’s safe to relax deeply. (If it’s not safe to relax deeply at home, it’s not a home.)

• We can choose friends who are the same way– positive, loving, encouraging people.

• We can find work that gives back more than it takes.

• We can concentrate on doing just a few things, and doing them really well.

• We can explore different approaches to preventive health care.

• We can work toward more beauty and order in our environment.

There are thousands of ways to energize and relax. We are all smart enough to find our own ways, especially when we have encouraging friends who will listen with love and not analyze or criticize or give advice as we talk our way through problems.

Anyone can change their energy/ tension balance. Many people begin by charting their personal energy/tension ecology, listing what in their lives drains and what lifts energy, what raises and what lowers tension– and whatever has or might. Then they start to make changes. Even a little can make a big difference. There is no limit to the number of people who can be joyful, and no limit to how joyful each of us can be!

Dan Jones, Ph.D., is the therapist featured in John Lee's book The Flying Boy and along with John co-founded the P.E.E.R.™ Training Program in Emotional Release. Dan also founded New Texas Magazine and has authored 4 books: Words for Our Feelings; What Makes A Man A Man; The Roller Coaster Kid and P.E.E.R.™ Stories. Contact Dan via P.E.E.R. at (888) 745-7337.