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Why Is Joy So Elusive?
The human should is like a sponge for bad news. It doesn't just happen. It has to be cultivated.
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This month we’re on the hunt to learn how to be a people of joy in a world of dread. Last week I wrote about how joy is the fruit of the daily choice to give our attention to the good news of Jesus. Before we dive into a daily practice for developing joy, I want to talk a bit about why joy is such an illusive experience. So here’s the sobering reality:
The human soul is like a sponge for bad news.
We all know what a sponge does when it’s submerged in liquid, right? It absorbs the liquid into itself. Whether we like it, or not, that’s exactly what our souls do with difficult, evil, unsettling, and scary information, or experience - they absorb it easily. The human soul is a sponge for bad news. In fact, you’ve probably noticed how much more easily consumed you are by bad news and difficult experiences, than you are by good news, or good experience. Here’s what I think is so critical to understand:
This isn’t because you’re a bad Christian!
Here’s what’s interesting. It turns out, that when it comes to joy, your brain is more adversary than ally. This is because of a reality called, “NEGATIVITY BIAS.” Negativity Bias, is a cognitive bias that results in adverse events having a more significant impact on our psychological state than positive ones.
Negativity Bias is why we tend to internalize insults and criticism, more than encouragement and compliments. For instance, I still remember being seven, or eight-years-old and being at a school roller-skating party (Don’t judge me. It was the 80’s and it was “bussin,” as my kids say). At this particular party, I was pestering a couple of older girls on which I had a bit of a crush. Like the little pest that I was, I kept skating between them and then blasting off down the rink (I hate myself, just thinking about it). After they decided they’d had enough, one of the two girls yelled after me, “You have a big butt.” Now, on the spectrum of hurtful words that have been spoken over me, this is mild. But here’s the thing: That was over 30 years ago and even now when I recall it, all the embarrassment and shame comes flooding back. Do you know why?
Negativity bias is why we’re more prone to dwell on difficult, or traumatic events, then enjoyable ones.
It’s why negative reporting by the media is so much more compelling to us than positive reporting.
In 1998, a social psychologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder, named Tiffany Ito, conducted a study finding that humans react more intensely to negative stimuli, than they do positive. 33 different study participants were shown various images, while simultaneously having their brain’s electrical activity measured to identify response. Researchers presented neutral images (a plate, electrical outlet), positive images (such as people enjoying themselves), and negative images (like as a gun pointed at the individual holding the picture). Their study found that most brain activity occurred when participants held the negative images. Researchers concluded that negative stimuli more strongly influence individuals.
I’m not a neuroscientist, but here’s what this all means:
We can be surrounded by a pile of good, but the presence of even a little negative will often consume our attention.
We’re kind of like horses with blinders on. We only see what is right in front of us. I know most of that sounds like bad news, but here’s the good news:
When it comes to our attention, we have agency.
We can make deliberate decisions to turn our attention to the good news of Jesus. Yes, it will be a fight, but remember, we’re not in the fight alone. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. If you are in Christ, He is in you and He’s with you to help.
So again we turn to this question: How do we begin making the daily choice to give our attention to the good news of Jesus?
In her beautiful book, “Liturgy of the Ordinary,” Tish Harrison Warren says,
“Our hearts and our loves are shaped by what we do again and again and again.”
So for the next few weeks, I want to talk about a daily practice for developing a joyful attitude. We’re going to discuss three things we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us be mindful of each day:
Storing Up Gratitude.
Staying Present To Blessing.
Until next week, remember, your soul is a sponge for bad news. Which means, joy isn’t something that comes to us. It has to be cultivated. So let’s begin the process of adopting a daily practice for developing a joyful attitude.
This week, let’s just start by setting a reminder on your phone at the end of each day to recall even one way in watch God was kind to you. That may not sound like much, but it’s a bigger start that you think.
I pray God’s blessing over you as you continue to become a person of joy in a world of dread!