Joy is the Answer. (It Doesn't Matter What the Question Is.)

Image courtesy of Gra o Tron. Used under the FAIR USE Act of 2007.
Image courtesy of Gra o Tron. Used under the FAIR USE Act of 2007.

In a June 2016 interview with Esquire, Game of Thrones actor Iwan Rheon said:

"I think that's the key to [Ramsay Bolton]—the joy he gets from doing all these things. Ramsay's got a joyful life."

Rheon's assessment of his character made me stop and think.

If you're even a casual watcher of Game of Thrones, then you know that Ramsay Bolton is one of the cruelest, most sadistic characters ever written. He rapes his wife, flays his enemies,  and initiates a cold-blooded, ruthless escape deals that he knew was going to end in slaughter. To imagine that he gets joy out of these atrocities is stomach-churning.


Ramsay Bolton is full of joy. He does truly revel in the pure evil of his actions. And that's what makes him strangely magnetic. (And, until his untimely demise by a pack of starving dogs, successful in taking control of the North. #spoilers)

It's not his single-mindedness, military prowess, or even his ability to inspire fear and loathing in his allies and enemies; it's his joy.

Joy is the Answer

At the end of 2014, I picked a theme for the upcoming year: spark joy and live life well

I was at a good place in my life: I had found a mentor that made a significant impact on my life and on how I chose to live it, my personal life was going well, my business was taking off, and I had been accepted as a student in a training program that I really wanted to complete.

All good things—and yet, I was looking for more.

I didn't just want to be comfortable in my life; I wanted to fully embrace and love the hell out of it.

And I didn't just want to have others be content after spending time together; I wanted to inspire excitement, courage, adventure, and hope in them.

Hence, spark joy (in others) and live life well (for myself).

In the intervening years, I've learned two things:

1. it is not my responsibility to make people feel anything, good or bad


2. everything comes down to joy

In desiring to live life well, I was really seeking joy. And in desiring to spark joy in others, I was really seeking a way of being in the world.

Beyond that, I've discovered that when I approach things with a sense of joy instead of a sense of commitment or obligation, that's when things really start to blossom.

Friendships are deeper.

Relationships are more fulfilling.

Business is better.

Conversations are more enlightening.

Adventures are more enjoyable.

When executed with joy, everything is more.

And that's why I'm going back to joy for 2017 (and keeping it simple to boot).

I want to approach everything with a sense of joy.

I don't want to do things out of obligation, or because I think I "should" do it, or because this is the method that works for everyone else. I want to do it because it engenders an unquestionable sense of joy.

Does this mean that I'm going to go through 2017 deliriously happy? Of course not. I still have obligations and commitments and responsibilities that I have to keep. (Because not keeping them is less joyful than completing them.)

But does it mean that I'm deliberately going to seek out opportunities that cause joy and reject the ones that don't? Absolutely.

Because joy is the answer. Joy is how we truly build lives of significance, not ones of empty accomplishments and hollow successes.

What's your one-word theme for 2017?

Choosing a one-word theme is something that's gained a lot of traction in the self development community over the last few years. And, despite the hype, I highly encourage you to do it.


Because it gives your actions focus.

When you have a theme, a general feeling or state of being that you want to embody, then you unconsciously orient your actions to create that feeling or state of being. Everything you consciously do is subconsciously driven by this overarching idea.

As a result, you create the life you want to live—your Audacious Life—in nearly every moment of every day.

And if you get off track? You have a touchstone to which to return and a way to course-correct without too much trouble or lamentation.

Personally, I've chosen a yearly theme since early 2013. (Read about them in the Further Reading section below.) Each year's theme was intentionally selected to create something I needed in my life—pleasure, space, the Good Life, perseverance. And now, joy.

So, this brings me back to my question: what's YOUR one-word theme for the upcoming year?

Share yours in the comments section below.

Further Reading

  1. "Putting the 'Sure!' in 'Pleasure,'" February 2013
  2. "Spark Joy & Life Life Well: My Theme for 2015," January 2015
  3. "The Totally Zen Way to Focus Your Efforts in 2016," December 2015
  4. "A Little Happier: What's Your One-Word Theme for the New Year?" Gretchin Rubin