Where Has All the Joy Gone?

Photo by Pedro Sanz on Unsplash

This might sound like a strange question to raise for consideration in a newspaper dedicated to recovery issues. It is a question, however, that I hear being asked by people as we speak about issues like the impact of COVID-19 and what lies ahead, the many unsettled and turbulent situations around the world, and concerns about what is happening in our schools and hospitals. As I listen to these conversations, I feel like the joy has been sucked out of the world. This issue was also raised by the Church that my wife and I attend.

From these conversations and awareness, I was led to the question that is the theme of this article: Where has all the joy gone? I will try to bring my 27 years of being part of a 12 Step community to bear on this question. What does my recovery experience say about finding and experiencing joy?

As I reflect upon these experiences now and in the past, a quality emerges that I believe is an important component of experiencing joy, and that is resilience. I wrote a book on this topic a number of years ago: Resilience: The Ability to Rebound from Adversity (Gasscann Publishers, Minneapolis MN, 2019). I find resilience being raised in articles, books and discussions. I see resilience as having a two-fold focus: First, preparing to meet and work with the adversities and challenges we face day by day and second, the ability to re-bound from these adversities and challenges. What I will continue to explore in this article are important aspects of developing resilience and how these will enable us to experience joy.

“I was able to get up and continue on, even though I was challenged” might be an expression of what this relationship looks like. So, let’s look at some of these aspects of resilience which I have found are helpful in experiencing joy. These areas are finding support, self-care and seeking the guidance of Higher Powers.


Being an extravert, I find relating to others as being like a kind of fish swimming around in the waters of life, giving and receiving support. In coming to know many introverts – including my wife – I believe some kind of support is also important for introverts. Besides the 12 Step group I have been part of for 27 years, I also have belonged to a small Men’s group for about 35 years. In addition, I have found support groups in the Church community to which we belong. In all of these groups and in varying degrees, I have found people with whom to share stories – my stories and their stories. What facilitates this sharing is that neither they nor I are sitting in judgment about the other. Listening replaces judgment. When I find another listening to my story, I feel that I can say more and even talk about things like what scares me. Vulnerability happens, bonds are formed and support increases as we discover we are not in the bunker of life alone. We realize there are others with us, others who are as scared and overwhelmed as we are. I see these shared experiences creating support as well as resilience. Symbolically, it might be like sharing that I feel defeated and down, and the other outstretches a hand to help me back up. I see this as an important part of maintaining resilience.

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This dimension speaks directly to the importance of our bodies in living our lives and doing what we want to do with our lives. Our bodies possess energy, and we need to find ways to channel that energy in creative ways as opposed to feeling de-energized. I see some exercises and practices that have been helpful to me. And in framing these as exercises and practices, I see these habits we have to work on so that they become an important part of our lives. These good habits take time to develop, especially if we are trying to change un-healthy habits. I am reminded of the ol’ saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day – and so it is in developing good habits. These habits deal with our bodies and moving our bodies. It means getting off the couch and not spending hours glued to the media. Remember: “Move it or lose it.”

Another habit involves looking at what we eat and drink – we become what we eat and drink! If we are eating lots of junk food, we run the risk of becoming junk and becoming lethargic. There is also the need to look at our sleeping patterns and habits so that we can have good, sound sleep. Another area of importance is looking at the ways we express, or do not express, our sexuality. This will vary from person to person within the circumstances of our lives. We can find support in this area in speaking with people we trust about our sexual expressions. What is important is that we are aware of our sexuality and are finding ways to express our sexuality in healthy and life-giving ways.

The over-riding question for me in relation to our bodies and finding ways to remain energized and alive is: How can our bodies be our friends and not our enemies? I believe in experiencing our bodies as friends enables us to be more resilient and able to live with more joy. I believe our bodies want us to be full of joy and filled with energy and to experience that is to develop some of the practices and exercises I have suggested. There are also other things like massage that can be helpful.

Higher Powers

Step 11 of the 12 Steps states: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.” I raise this here as I believe the focus of this Step is important for our recovery – whatever be our addiction – for developing resilience and experiencing joy. In looking at this Step, I have always struggled with the language, especially the “God” language. I prefer use of the words Higher Power or Powers. I also try to use inclusive language when I write and speak, and this also refers to God whom I see as both masculine and feminine. I admit I am a believer in God and life-long member of the Roman Catholic Church. I have found that I regularly experience through my encounters with other people. I believe in the principle stated years ago by Ernie Kurtz: Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous (Hazelden Publishing, Center City MN, 2010). He stated that anyone or anything can be a Higher Power, so it isn’t just me who thinks like this. I see Higher Powers in my wife, my friends, members of my support group and God. I see Higher Powers as bountiful in our lives, and different higher Powers give us different awareness and insight.

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The Step also speaks of the importance of prayer and remaining conscious. To me, remaining conscious is an important way to evaluate our praying and meditating: Are we remaining conscious or tending to live in more of a fog? So, what helps you remain conscious these days? I find conversations with friends to be most helpful – both speaking and listening. I often learn what I was unaware of before I began to engage with this other person. Another way I see to meditate is taking time to slow down and gently ask what is important in our lives and are we doing this? Two practices that I have found helpful are: First, simply connect to the movement of our breathing and listen to our breathing; Second, keep a journal where we can express in a safe place what we are hearing and are aware of. I have also come to see developing a practice of gratitude and keeping a gratitude journal as other ways to pray and meditate. All of these practices can help us become aware of our Higher Powers and they can help us to maintain resilience and be joyful.

So, these are some of the ways I have found to be helpful in developing and maintaining resilience as well as bringing me joy and a certain sense of satisfaction with my life and what I am trying to accomplish. So, the question – Where has All the Joy Gone? – has led me to say that joy is in you, and it is in me. There are ways and practices that build our resilience and open us to feeling joyful. This is important work and I wish you well and joy.

Mark T. Scannell is a veteran 12 Stepper who believes that communities or Villages are essential in helping people recover from our addictions. His most recent book – The Village It Takes: The Power To Affirm – explores this theme.

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Last Updated on March 23, 2022

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