The desire to experience more joy in everyday life is pretty common among people of almost all faiths. Many religions consider joy to be proof of the presence of the divine. Unfortunately, it is also one of the things many people confess that they're missing out on.
Stoicism is a philosophy rooted in rational thought. Stoics tend to distrust passions, particularly those that may lead to fear, jealousy or other negative emotions. Stoicism may not be the first place to which many people turn for lessons on joy, but there are some practices within this school of thought that can make delight more readily available.
Practicing Stoicism inevitably means setting a high bar for how you spend your time. Virtue is valued above all else, and important virtues can be divided into four lofty categories:
Within these four elements of the philosophy lie many opportunities for joy. The insatiable curiosity of learning as much as you can often leads to wonder. The satisfaction of taking a stand or defending those who are oppressed can make the world a fairer place. By practicing sensual or emotional pleasures in moderation, you keep yourself from becoming addicted to them and thus are free to experience the joys they bring without the drawback of desperation. While this may be a tall order for many people, others may find the challenge of this pursuit exhilarating.
One of the critiques of Stoicism is that, for all its talk of disarming negative emotion through reason, it seems to embrace melancholy with the practice of imagining life without specific blessings or pleasures. Many who practice this philosophy, however, report the opposite effect. They routinely picture how they would feel or what their life would be like without specific people they love or the necessities that make their lives easier. By engaging in negative visualization, they are able to experience more gratitude and joy about things and people that others may take for granted.
Many religions practice negative visualization through seasons of fasting. Some may give up food for a certain amount of time and use every hunger pang as a reminder to pray for those who don't have the abundance they typically enjoy. During Lent, many leaders encourage their congregations to choose something they love or enjoy and do without it for forty days. Many choose a specific type of food, but others pick a favorite pastime, convenience or luxury. The practice isn't always easy, but the joy they experience on Easter when it's time to once again embrace what they have been missing is an essential part of the celebration.
Focus on the Practical
Most of the things that happen to you in life are not completely in your control. You can't always predict or influence how other people act, and you can't make someone feel or think a certain way about you. The Stoic path to joy calls for distinguishing between the things you can control, the things you can only partially control and the things you cannot control.
Use this distinction to guide your goal-setting. For example, if you want to run a marathon, it doesn't make sense to make winning your goal. After all, there are too many factors that play into that outcome for it to be within your control. Instead, set measurable and attainable goals for your own performance, such as the number of times you run in a week or overcoming your own best time. When you focus only on the elements you can control, the end result is likely to be much more satisfying.
Stoicism may not be for everyone, but all people of faith can learn something from its principles. You may even be surprised by how easily they lead to joy.