Best Self sits down with licensed professional counselor Matthew Quick to discover the secrets to finding your personal joy.
By Jill Becker
There’s no denying 2020 was a rough year, and many of us may still be feeling some of the effects. That’s why it’s more important than ever to concentrate on the positive things in our lives and discover what truly makes us happy. We sat down recently with Matthew Quick, a licensed professional counselor and the founder and director of North Atlanta Psychotherapy, to gather some insight into finding our personal joy.
Q: How would you define “finding your joy?”
Matthew Quick: First, I would make a distinction between happiness and joy. Happiness comes from the word ‘happenstance’ and indicates that good feelings are a byproduct of favorable circumstances. Getting a raise, receiving a compliment and buying new clothes are examples of circumstances that can produce happiness. Joy is similar, but it communicates a deeper sense of well-being. Joy points to something less dependent on the circumstances of life and more on something that can be tapped into when circumstances aren’t so favorable. I think finding your joy is the process of uncovering and recognizing what’s already present in your life, which can ultimately bring a sense of satisfaction, hope and security.
Q: Did the pandemic have an effect on the population’s ability to feel joy?
MQ: Finding our joy was especially important over the last year since our collective experience was one of anxiety, panic, hopelessness and depression. Being socially distant and seemingly disconnected from others forced us to become creative and find joy in establishing new ways of connecting to others and ourselves.
Q: Why is it so important to find your joy? Can’t people live a full and satisfying life even if they’re not necessarily happy all the time but at least not sad all the time?
MQ: It’s important to find joy because people naturally don’t want to feel pain or go through struggle. Pain and struggle remind us of the boundaries of our control. If you can find your joy, then you’ve gained the ability to exercise some form of control when life turns upside down. Joy can be a deeper source of positivity that assures us that life will get better. Imagine that life feels out of control, uncomfortable and difficult, but you have the ability to manage, understand and comfort yourself. The power might be in your hands rather than the fate of your circumstances. That’s the benefit of finding your joy.
Q: What are some of the obstacles that make it so difficult?
MQ: One of the most common is our difficulty staying in the present. Dwelling on the past and living in the
future rather than in the present are futile attempts at control that ultimately rob us of our joy. When focusing on the past, we can be overly critical of ourselves and beat ourselves up for things we can’t do anything about now anyway. Past trauma cuts deep and steals our opportunity at a fuller life. Living in the past distresses our frame of mind, and we have no immediate resolution because we can’t change the actual events. Dwelling on the future is equally problematic. We can do our best to take action and prepare for concerns in the times to come, but we often become so consumed with this effort that we get drained and have difficulty living in the present. Paralysis can set in with our fears and worries. We get suffocated with the what-ifs. We create distressing narratives about a reality that hasn’t happened and may never happen.
Q: Are there certain key areas that are universally important in helping us achieve our joy, such as relationships with family and friends, financial stability or good health?
MQ: My experience tells me that the most crucial area is by far relationships. A meaningful career might be second. Finding joy in relationships with significant others, family and social networks is innately important to our mental health and contentment. When those relationships suffer, we suffer.
Q: Are there particular situations we may be dealing with that are more likely to create barriers to joyfulness, such as getting a divorce or experiencing too much stress?
MQ: Without a doubt, the most important factor is attitude. The good news is we have control over that. Circumstances will absolutely vary by degree and test our resolve based on how severe they are. One thing to keep in mind is the power of our ability to think and change our posture or attitude in given situations. One remarkable attestation to this is the account of Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl
as he describes in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” He recalled the moment while caged in a
concentration camp that he came to a profound realization. He had been stripped of his clothing, family, possessions and freedom, yet he recognized that although the Nazis could take almost everything from him, they could never take away his freedom to feel or think what he chose. He wrote, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing … to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’
Q: Are there things people might be doing that are unknowingly keeping them from finding their joy?
MQ: One is a lack of gratitude. We all struggle with it when we gradually become desensitized to accumulating more and more things. Another is unrealistic expectations. Movies and social media are the usual culprits in this case. Finally, there are negative thought patterns. The consistent narrative we create around our life may be the very thing robbing us of our joy.
Joy to the World
Licensed professional counselor Matthew Quick shares his thoughts on some things you can do to help discover your inner joy.
Make a gratitude list. Make a list of everything that’s currently going well in your life and practice
becoming thankful for it. This includes things, people and experiences. Schedule time to look at the list whenever you can, whether it’s first thing in the morning, on your lunch hour or before you go to bed each night.
Think about what brought you joy as a child. Children experience joy more easily than adults
because everything is so new to them. They’re filled with wonder, and their experiences aren’t as complicated. Consider what it was that brought you joy back then. Was it playing a sport, riding your bike
or playing dress-up? Why did you lose joy in doing those things? If you were to do them now, what would
that look like, and how would it feel? What is it that’s stopping you from experiencing childlike joy?
If you’re willing to dig a little deeper and invest more time, thought and even money into it, here are some other things you can do.
Go to therapy. Psychotherapy is a great experience to engage in to better understand yourself and find out why you may not be experiencing joy. You may discover there are both conscious and unconscious reasons for it.
Get a life coach. While psychotherapy allows you to take a deep dive into your psyche and consciousness, life coaching offers practical ways to navigate through life. Talking with someone about changing course in your career, for example, may open the door for more joy in your life.
Practice yoga. With its origins in the spiritual tradition of Hinduism, yoga allows us to connect to ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually. By enhancing the mind-body connection through breathing and stretching, many people find that it challenges and strengthens them to become more present and aware and that it allows for a greater sense of well-being.
Volunteer. Volunteering forces us to put aside our own stuff for the time being. It allows us to help others in ways that remind us of what we have and that we should be grateful for it. Volunteering usually involves working on another’s behalf to obtain some of the most basic things in life that many of us take for granted.
Matthew Quick, M.Div., LPC, NCC,
North Atlanta Psychotherapy,
4360 Chamblee Dunwoody Rd., Ste. 515, Atlanta;