Consciously Cultivate Joy

The developed world is experiencing more prosperity, convenience, and opportunity than could even be imagined 100 years ago. We’ve essentially eliminated diseases that used to kill tens of thousands of people, developed technology that allows us to grow enormous amounts of food, access education, and even travel 3,000 miles in a mere eight hours. Even so, the majority of people we come in contact with every day seem discouraged, unhappy, and anxious.

This is equally true among professional musicians, which seems particularly ironic. After all, music is beautiful – surely a source of pleasure and connection – and yet, so many musicians seem decidedly negative. It’s no wonder that we are captivated by those who seem to have discovered the secret to joy.  

But developing joy does not require a secret recipe. It simply requires practice. And the dividends are immeasurable.

Joy vs. Happiness

We all know what it is to be happy. It’s the elated feeling you have when something goes your way – you get the job, you nail the goal, the cute stranger calls you back. Happiness is wonderful, but it’s fleeting and almost always dependent on outside events.

Joy, on the other hand, is a much deeper feeling. If happiness is the bubbles, then joy is the underground stream. Joy is an emotion of well-being, a general feeling that you are on the right path, and that things are turning out for the best. It’s an excitement and confidence about the world and your place in it.

It is possible to be joyful and not happy. Unhappy things happen in every person’s life – people die or disappoint us, carefully laid plans fall through. But people who are genuinely joyful see these things for what they are – inescapable parts of the human experience, which is, despite the problems, still a wonderful thing.

It isn’t that joyful people never experience sadness or anger, it’s that they understand these difficult feelings to be the immune system of the soul, an indicator that something is wrong that should be addressed if possible.

The Vulnerability of Joy

Classical musicians as a whole can tend to be a pessimistic bunch. We focus on what went wrong, or what is likely to do so.

It’s a defense mechanism. After all, if you point out your mistakes first, then you can’t be embarrassed by someone else doing it for you. If you don’t get your hopes up, you can’t really be disappointed, right?


Those walls you build to keep out the bad feelings are not filters, they are fortresses. Nothing so bad can get in, true, but nothing so good can either. You are trading in hopeful expectation for premature disappointment and calling it “being realistic.”

Get Real

Many people call themselves Realists when in actuality, they are just Negative Nellies. They look at a world of good things, search out the bad, and say, “See, I told you so.” But just because bad things can and do happen, it doesn’t mean that the world is a bad place. On the whole, there is a lot more good than bad, and almost every “bad” thing carries within it the seed of something good if you’re willing to look for it.

Being willing is the key. Cultivating joy is a conscious practice. It requires being grateful, looking for opportunities, and expecting the best.

Here’s an example: You’ve planned a vacation to New York City, including tickets to a Broadway show. But when you get there, a blackout closes all the theaters. A disaster right? All that planning and saving down the tubes. You could choose to look at it that way. Or, you could consider that without a theater, all of the actors are spilling into the streets, putting on a once-in-a-lifetime acoustic performance and you’re there for it.

Choose Your Perspective Carefully

To use an example familiar to performing musicians, consider calling a venue to book a show. You can approach the conversation with joy or trepidation. Trepidation says this call is going to be difficult, it probably won’t work out, the person on the other end will be rude. Of course, you’re sweaty and anxious before making such a call.

Joy, on the other hand, says you are offering something of value that this person will want to take advantage of. You go in expecting the best. Of course, you’re hoping it will work out, but it isn’t just positive thinking that you’re relying on to save the day. Joy also knows that if this call doesn’t work out you will have gained more experience with these kinds of calls, and now have more time to work with people who will appreciate what you have to offer.

We all want to be around people who are excited and joyful about life and the path they are on. But why stop there? Why not practice BEING one of those people?

This is part of our series on the characteristics of attractive people. If you would like to hear the live discussion about this characteristic, head on over to now.

If you are ready to learn more about how to build a profitable, fulfilling career as a performing classical musician, check out Concert University, and the free webinar that outlines 5 strategies for success.