How to Rewire Your Brain to Feel More Joyful

This is my life right now:

Doctor visits three times a week.

Income: a piecemeal tapestry of checks that I hope add up to the magical number I need.

Up at 4 am this morning to babysit. It’s the 9th consecutive day that I’ve worked so far.

On Halloween, I stayed in, costumeless.

Also Halloween weekend: selling mayo at Costco for six hours straight. 70 jars gone ‘cuz of me. Big jars, too. Like, huge. It’s Costco.

Lots of miles on the freeway. Brake lights. Old–irritatingly old–music shuffling through.

Wow. That…sounds miserable.


No. Yeah. It’s miserable.

Every day, I wake up. I flip through my Desire Map planner, decipher the scribbles (I’m a little old school), and make sure I’m not forgetting anything. And every day I’m filled–sometimes completely overcome–by joy.

And I have to say that even I’m surprised.

Danielle Laporte has me rewiring my understanding of joy. It runs deeper than you think. She says that underneath everything is joy. Even the sorrow. Through our darkest, darker-than-pre-dawn days, joy is there, humming away, beneath the pain. Joy to be alive. Joy to feel it all.

Because joy is so foundational to your true being, every other state or emotion can rest on top of joy, it can accommodate everything.

— Danielle Laporte

I had to let this one sink in for awhile. I was skeptical. I’m a free-feeling, fiery little thing. I try not to get attached to my emotions, but I’m big on honoring them. If it’s all just piled on top of joy…then doesn’t that sort of discredit the truth of how I’m feeling?

So, I experimented. I gave myself permission to reclaim joy as my natural state.


Let’s return to my previously described, seemingly miserable week. Caroline of a couple of years ago, or maybe even a month ago, would have grunted her way through that week: elbows up, keeping a watchful, desperate eye on that X on the calendar that marked when it’d all be over. A friday party, maybe. Just a day off. Or, hell, maybe even Christmas.

That was how I lived. Days that weren’t totally blissed-out happy were to be dragged, scraping and clunking along behind me as I crusaded to the next high–be it alcohol or a fat, red “A” on a test. Painfully: armor up. Boulder and soldier on. I bulldozed into one crisis after the other, letting each new one I hit fuel my anger and misery even more. Another reason to be pissed! Life sucks! Yippee! 

You see, I thought my natural state was stress. Somewhere along the line, I flipped the equation. Joy was the rarity. The silent, waiting finish line to knuckle towards. It was fleeting and evasive, sprinkled ever so sparingly across the calendar weeks. The rest of my time was to be spent defending and deflecting against whatever some god with a six pack decided to casually fling at me.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been flipping it back to what it should be. Joy is the constant.

I’m going to say that again:

Joy is the constant. It can be the foundation for every moment of your entire life if you let it.

Not happiness. Happiness comes and goes. But you can be unhappy and still feel joy. 

After spending a few weeks in the joy lab, I’ve made sense of it like this:

Joy is irrational and impulsive. It’s what makes you want to weep when you see an elderly man eating alone at a restaurant, laugh hysterically when you’re in the middle of an argument, or surprise your friend with a latte for no reason at all.

Joy is fed by one thing: your awareness of the miracle that you are alive. 

So, yeah. When I’m driving to work at 5 am, I’m joyful. I can feel the warm coffee against my palm. The freeway is silent, save for the few cars sliding by. The darkness feels full and impatient.

When I’m peddling ridiculously sized jars of mayo, I’m joyful. Partly because I’m exhausted, partly because I get free Costco samples. And partly because, sometimes, a good, honest push for a few extra bucks under fluorescent lights is miserably satisfying in its own right.

And when my heart is broken, when I catch myself crying in the middle of traffic because I’ve thought about my grandfather again and the empty space next to him in his bed, about how I missed the memorial service–I let the sadness occupy its rightful space. I let it reach its height. I’m sobbing now. And…there, right there, is the joy. Because I can feel the ache of my family and souls leaving their bodies behind. I can feel sticky tears on my cheeks, and the eyes of the driver next to me, and the air conditioner blowing way too hard in my face. I can feel the white-hot release of all the pain and movement that is this life, and right at the breaking point–there it is–joy.

I’m here, in this almost-five-foot-five body, with this hair, and these hands to feel it all. Everything. And I’m positively overjoyed at the privilege to do so.

So, my mission for you: tune into the joy. Let it do its job. Let it sustain you, be your constant. Acknowledge it as your rightful, natural state. Let the emotions pass freely. Express them. Let it all go blurry and unrecognizable for a moment, and then focus back in on the irrational, miraculous existence of you inside a feeling body with teeth and legs and hair.

Ultimately, you will love in this life. You will collect wedding toasts and eulogies. You will work long hours, early hours. You will sit, bored in traffic, or nervous as hell in waiting rooms. Sing in the shower, and cry on the bathroom floor. You will yell at your family and run far away from them, only to turn around and run right back. You will lose. You will be devastated. You will be brought to your knees, no, your stomach–flat out face plant. You will fly in an airplane and take it for granted. You will take most things for granted. You will forget who loves you. You’ll buy cards, and send them a day late. You’ll swallow words, only to have them explode from you later. You will eat too much with people you love, fall asleep too early in a tiny ball. You will spread your arms as you balance on the curb of some sidewalk in some city, dazzled by the streetlights, while missing the stars. 

You will feel a great deal through it all. The whole, great, blazing spectrum. And when you’re done with your human experience, your human life, you will close your eyes, and all you’ll really be able to account for is one brief, bright, improbable flash…of joy.

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