11. Places We Go When Life Is Good

Joy, Happiness, Calm, Contentment, Gratitude, Foreboding Joy, Relief, Tranquility


Joy is an intense feeling of deep spiritual connection, pleasure, and appreciation. It is sudden, unexpected, short-lasting, and high-intensity. It’s characterized by a connection with others, or with God, nature, or the universe. Joy expands our thinking and attention, and it fills us with a sense of freedom and abandon.

The relationship between joy and gratitude is an upward spiral:

  1. Trait gratitude predicts greater future experiences of in-the-moment joy.
  2. Trait joy predicts greater future experiences of in-the-moment gratitude.
  3. And dispositional or situational joy predicts greater future subjective well- being.


Happiness is feeling pleasure often related to the immediate environment or current circumstances. Happiness is stable, longer-lasting, and normally the result of effort. It’s lower in intensity than joy, and more self-focused. We feel a sense of being in control. Unlike joy, which is more internal, happiness seems more external and circumstantial.


Calm means creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity.

Calm people can bring perspective to complicated situations and experience their feelings without reacting to heightened emotions.

Cultivating and maintaining calm takes a lot of self-questioning, mostly centered on breath, perspective taking, and curiosity.

  1. Calm is an intention. Do we want to infect people with more anxiety, or heal ourselves and the people around us with calm? Anxiety is contagious. Intensity and reactivity only breed more of the same. Calm is also contagious. Nothing is more important than getting a grip on your own reactivity.
  2. Do we match the pace of anxiety, or do we slow things down with breath and tone?
  3. Do we have all the information we need to make a decision or form a response? What do we need to ask or learn?

Or a simpler algorithm:

  1. Do I have enough information to freak out? The answer is normally no.
  2. Will freaking out help? The answer is always no.


Contentment is the feeling of completeness, appreciation, and “enoughness” that we experience when our needs are satisfied. Contentment is a low-arousal positive emotion, along with peace, tranquility, and satisfaction.


Gratitude reflects our deep appreciation for what we value, what brings meaning to our lives, and what makes us feel connected to ourselves and others. While gratitude is an emotion, if we want to experience its full power, we must also make it a practice.

Gratitude is good for us physically, emotionally, and mentally and is correlated with:

Positive emotions wear off quickly because our emotional systems like newness, novelty, and change. We adapt to positive life circumstances so that before too long, the new car, the new spouse, the new house—they don’t feel so new and exciting anymore.

Gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something, and when we appreciate the value of something, we extract more benefits from it; we’re less likely to take it for granted.

Gratitude allows us to participate more in life. We notice the positives more, and that magnifies the pleasures you get from life.

Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness.

Foreboding Joy

Foreboding joy means being afraid to lean into good news, wonderful moments, and joy. It means waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Joy becomes foreboding when we lose our tolerance for vulnerability.

Joy is frightening because we believe if we allow ourselves to feel joy, we are inviting disaster.

We start dress-rehearsing tragedy in the best moments of our lives in order to stop vulnerability from beating us to the punch. We are terrified of being blindsided by pain, so we practice tragedy and trauma. But there’s a huge cost.

When we push away joy, we squander the goodness that we need to build resilience, strength, and courage.

Everyone who shows a deep capacity for joy has one thing in common: they practice gratitude.

In the midst of joy, there’s often a quiver, a shudder of vulnerability. Rather than using that as a warning sign to practice imagining the worst-case scenario, the people who lean into joy use the quiver as a reminder to practice gratitude.


Relief is feelings of tension leaving the body and being able to breathe more easily, thoughts of the worst being over and being safe for the moment, resting, and wanting to get on to something else.

The sigh of relief is real. Sighing serves as a type of reset button for our body. It not only signals relief to our body, but it enhances relief, and it reduces muscle tension.


Tranquility means the absence of demand and no pressure to do anything.Tranquil environments are needed to counter mental fatigue and attention depletion.

Four essential elements of a restorative environment:

  1. a sense of getting away
  2. a feeling of immersion
  3. holding attention without effort
  4. compatibility with one’s preferences.

There are auditory and visual components to tranquil environments, including elements of nature and low levels of noise. Settings that induce high tranquility include fields and forests and large bodies of water; urban settings tend not to induce tranquility.

There’s a difference between feeling content and feeling tranquil. With contentment, we often have the sense of having completed something; with tranquility, we relish the feeling of doing nothing.