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.

Whatever Happened to Professional Joy?

It’s a familiar story. A musician works for years through a rigorous music program nursing the dream of one day becoming a professional performer. At last, it happens. Then, a few years later, this dream job has become routine. Wake up, do the work, go home. Something feels missing.

When we turn professional, when our livelihood depends on our music, we tend to kill the joy of it. Why? How? And what can we do about it?

Long-term Love Is a Choice

Committing to a career, especially one as personal and emotional as music, is a lot like marriage.

There was a story on the radio recently about a man who’d been married for 65 years. He was talking about how he and his wife had managed to stay happily married for so long. He said, “Over the past 65 years, I’ve been married to 10 different versions of my wife. She became ten different people, and I chose to fall in love with every one of them.”

He chose to be in love. Over and over again. Happiness is a choice, and it requires a daily commitment.

When we go into professional music, especially after striving for so long, it can feel like a huge celebration, a wedding party if you will. But every day is not a party, and we shouldn’t expect it to be.

No one, regardless of career, goes to work every day and loves their job every moment that they are there. A life in music is hard work. Wonderful, yes, but also work. Managing expectations helps repel disappointment and disillusionment. So remember, every day is not the wedding day. Sometimes it’s the garbage night. And that’s ok.

Take Responsibility for Your Happiness

Often, when musicians are disappointed in their careers, it’s because they feel stuck. They feel like they are no longer in charge of what they do, and what they find themselves doing is draining, or even boring. It’s easier to blame a director for their unhappiness than it is to admit that, ultimately, the responsibility for happiness lies in their own laps.

But the truth is, no one is keeping you where you are. You have the ability to craft a career you do love. There are no hard and fast rules about what a professional music career must be. If you don’t like the situation you find yourself in, even after accepting that some days will be better than others, then change it.

A word of warning: if you don’t like the career you’ve crafted, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. However, you always keep crafting!

Remember Your Audience

Disgruntled performers make boring performances. Full stop.

Consider the influence your attitude is having on the people you are there to serve. Even on your worst day, your job is to communicate the emotional language of music to people who may have never experienced it before. You can’t do that if you are selfishly obsessed with how much fun you aren’t having.

Think about the people who are listening to a piece for the first time, even if you’ve played it a million times before. Be an actor. Communicate the emotion of the music. Find it, and amplify it to the audience. It’s hard to be bored when you’re invested in honestly communicating emotion.

You may have decided on a career in professional music because it was the most fun you’d ever had. That’s wonderful, we want our professional lives to be fun. But it’s important that when you step over that threshold from avocation to vocation, from wedding to marriage, that you remember that you’re making a commitment – a commitment not only to your career but primarily to your audience. You’ve committed to making the world a better place by communicating through the language of emotion. That’s something to be happy about, even on the rough days. 

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 Classic Jabber 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.