After counselling for over 25 years, I have become increasingly focused on how I can stay emotionally healthy in both my personal and professional life. Counselling work has its unique rewards and challenges, including the inevitability that I will be changed by the people I support. Both their sorrow and their joy will impact me.
This may sound like I’m weighed down by the stress and difficulties of the people I work with. And it’s true, I can certainly “catch” some of what my clients are going through and carry it with me. However, this means I also absorb the positive things in their lives. This is the wonderful reality of catching joy. This happens when we allow ourselves to connect with others while being attuned, creative, and open to joy.
The capacity for experiencing joy with others isn’t only for counsellors – it’s wired into all of us and can be experienced any time we open ourselves to connect with others in a safe, attuned way.
Collective joy often occurs in our attachment relationships – the connections we share with our closest friends, caregivers, and loved ones. These relationships strengthen our sense of belonging, emotional safety, and self-worth. Research shows that the quality of our emotional connections in close relationships is the most important influence on our ongoing development and mental well-being.
We can access this powerful human element in other settings as well. Kelly McGonigal explores the power of moving together in her book, The Joy of Movement. There is something important that happens when we participate in activities that allow us to connect with others and move in unison.
The quality of our emotional connections in close relationships is the most important influence on our ongoing development and mental well-being.
McGonigal expands on an idea from Sociologist Emile Durkheim termed collective effervescence. When we move together in unison – whether we’re going for a walk with someone or attending a yoga class – it’s like our bodies absorb something from each other and it bubbles up in us to expand and heal us. We need these experiences and they deepen when we cooperate. When we are open to them, they give us a deeper feeling of solidarity for our collective well-being.
We all know that spending time with others is good for us. And when we bring intention to these opportunities, we naturally increase our collective joy and health.
Here are 3 ways you can expand your capacity for experiencing joy with others:
Create opportunities to experience being part of a “we.”
- In your close relationships, spend time simply enjoying each other’s company. These don’t have to be profound tasks or costly outings. Pushing someone on a swing, window shopping, raking leaves – practically anything where you are able to notice each other’s emotional states can foster a feeling of felt connection and shared experience.
- Spend time remembering your shared experiences together. Looking back on times of connection allows our bodies and minds to recreate these experiences so they come alive again for us. When we reminisce and recount positive experiences together, we can absorb and deepen the joy and sense of belonging we felt during those times.
Find activities where you move with others.
- Join a group exercise class, go out dancing, or take a long walk with a friend. Pairing moving in unison with an openness to delight in each other’s experiences is like taking a multivitamin for your mental health. Make it a regular part of your emotional well-being hygiene.
I was reminded of this powerful and reciprocal benefit at the end of a recent counselling session with a nine-year-old. We had spent the session drawing, sporadically talking about a recent loss in her family, and exploring her feelings and worries. At the end of the session, she taught me exactly what she (and I) needed to rebalance ourselves. As we left my office carrying our empty hot chocolate mugs to the kitchen, she challenged me to join her in a silly walk/dance down the hallway to the bouncy pop song on the radio. As I clumsily mimicked her moves, we laughed together. I caught her twinkling eye and felt the effervescent joy in my own belly bubble up. I’m grateful to her natural wisdom of how to connect to a larger sense of life and joy.
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