How Do You Navigate Being Joyful in Turbulent Times?

3 min
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Picture this scene: Life is going great. Good things are happening to you, and there’s a lot to feel positive about. You’re ready to celebrate some wins. You’re crushing it! But when you look around, other people don’t seem to be doing so well, whether it’s friends facing redundancy and heartbreak, or people fleeing violence and terror on the news. At best, you don’t want to rub your good fortune in someone else’s face. And you definitely don’t want to be tacky, ignorant, or insensitive when other people are going through difficult things. But does that mean it’s not ok for you to be happy or share good news? 

Happiness Guilt

In 800,000 years of human history, joy and pain have existed side by side. This is just a part of life. Grief, after all, is simply testament to the depth with which we love. Natural disasters, war, and contagious diseases are nothing new, but the heightened connectivity of the last couple of decades have brought the scale of the world’s suffering into sharper focus. And on the flip side of this, many of us now find ourselves broadcasting our own lives to hundreds, maybe thousands of friends, acquaintances, and total strangers on a daily basis through social media platforms. Guilt about being happy, successful, and optimistic about life is prevalent because we’re so keenly aware of how unfair the balance seems to be in any one moment.

Playing It Down, and Negative Affect

But let’s look at what happens when we downplay our happiness. Negative affect is the concept that negative emotions have an impact on how we experience the world. It is the opposite of positive affect – a study-backed theory that states positive emotions and experiences contribute to more success and positive outcomes in life. So in this reverse case, negativity begets negativity. It is also true when we dampen natural instincts towards joy and happiness. By trying to outwardly act less happy than we are, we effectively contribute to more misery within ourselves. And does making ourselves sad improve the situation for anyone else? Not at all.

Hope, Joy, and Overcoming Adversity

Historically, joy has been one of the most powerful tools in human resistance to oppression. From the gospel music born out of American slavery to the Pride movement that brings visibility and changing attitudes to LGBTQ+ communities around the world, joyful resistance typically nurtures hope. Hope is the one thing that we all need in order to believe in a better future – so that we can go ahead and build it. It is also how we overcome adversity. Joy Strategist Erica Lasan puts it beautifully: “Joy isn’t a selfish act. Joy allows us to become selfless in a way that transforms the world. Small, intentional acts of kindness and love have the power to shift generations to come.”

The (Tactfully) Joyful Revolution

There’s a huge difference between showing off and sharing something wonderful with humility and gratitude. Remaining connected to ourselves through grounding practices – such as meditation or mindful movement – is important for keeping ourselves in check. It’s also the best way to build resilience so that you don’t need anyone else to co-sign your joy – it is your prerogative to experience happiness as quietly or as loudly as you wish. So let’s think about joy as something to be harnessed for the good of our wider communities. Instead of feeling guilty about our happiness, what if we leaned into it? Not as something to be flaunted ostentatiously, but a tool for spreading love and good vibes. Joy gives us the energy to be even more compassionate to others while preventing empathy burnout. It’s possible to be a beacon of light in dark times, and in fact, we need people to inspire us when we can’t see the way forward. We need people to make us smile when life gets too serious. And we need to show up for each other authentically – not hiding our true feelings. 


All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Optimism, Pessimism And Life Satisfaction: An Empirical Investigation; Resilient Individuals Use Positive Emotions To Bounce Back From Negative Emotions; Positive Affect And The Complex Dynamics Of Human Flourishing.

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