Amy Wong: How to Live with Joie De Vivre, Even When It Feels Like The Whole World Is Pulling You Down
Practice mindfulness. A fairly recent and radical conclusion by the work of neuroscientist Dr. Richie Davidson and others is that well-being is a skill. Their research strongly suggests that joy and well-being can be learned through a regular mindfulness practice. By nurturing our minds we can learn to attain calmness and peacefulness — all a prerequisite for tapping into our enthusiasm for life. Instead of viewing meditation as a spiritual activity, we can view it as an act of mental and emotional hygiene. In the same way we brush our teeth each day, we can spend as little as 5 minutes in a regular mindfulness practice.
As a part of my series about how to live with Joie De Vivre, I I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Eliza Wong.
Amy Wong is a leadership coach working with leaders and teams with some of the biggest names in tech, such as LinkedIn, Salesforce, and Roku. Combining her expertise in Conversational Intelligence with her “Fundamentals of Thriving” framework, she helps leaders and teams create next level impact through the three lenses of Self, Relationships, and Results.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
As a kid I was obsessed with math and piano. I studied (and taught) both through high school and college, got my degree in mathematics at UC Berkeley, and ended up in the tech industry for 10 years at Sun Microsystems. Throughout all my roles at Sun, I recognized that the common denominator that thread throughout my life in my passions, my studies, and all my different positions — whether as a program manager or UI architect — was a fascination with how people perceive and interpret information at hand. I discovered that I had a gift for being able to identify what others didn’t know that they didn’t know that kept them stuck, unable to move forward, and then be able to reflect those unknowns back to them in a way that they could derive truths for themselves and catalyze real learning and transformation.
When my first child was born in 2008 I had a massive breakthrough moment and I committed to embody my true gifts, not just achieve goals. I went to graduate school and got my Masters in transpersonal psychology in 2010 simply because it was fascinating, and that’s when coaching “found me.” Every day since that discovery has been nothing short of a miracle. No part of what I do is “work,” but instead is a way of being and a gift I get to experience every day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In 2013, a drug and rehab center in Sacramento inquired into my coaching and asked if I did group coaching. At the time I didn’t but very much wanted to. They decided to take a chance on letting me run their group coaching 2 hour sessions once a week with 30 clients. When I learned that each week I’d have some new faces, while others would graduate, I knew I was in for a challenge because it meant that I could never rely on a regular program or “schtick.” I’d always have to be fresh and new. Despite the discomfort and doubts that I’d be able to do right by this task, I pushed through the pain. It was so uncomfortably exciting that I knew that I was meant to do this work.
I coached for that drug and rehab center and their other locations for over a year and it has been the best part of my coaching career. I learned so much about the human spirit, connection, and resiliency, and I learned a ton about myself and my facilitation abilities. The big aha for me was that the most growth happens on the other side of the scariest or most uncomfortable moments, and I’m not the only one who benefits!
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
In my second year as an intern in Sun Microsystems, I remember feeling both wet behind the ears and seasoned in all the Sun ways (given it was my second year as an intern). One typical afternoon, I was having significant tech trouble and submitted a help desk ticket, and I accidentally chose Level 1 as a priority ranking, right before I headed out to a meeting held in a different building. Little did I know that that assigned priority was like sending out a nuclear bomb warning. The whole IT department stopped everything and IT resources everywhere scrambled to address the issue. This was before the days of Slack and regular use of text to be in communication, and so teams of people were madly trying to get a hold of me to find out more about this issue. I was finally located by a frantic group of engineers I’ve never met and I never felt so blindsided and embarrassed. Talk about a wake up call!
What did I learn? When it comes to processes that involve multiple stakeholders and dependencies, triple check the inputs because you never know what kind of tsunami you might create with a simple mistake.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Hands down that’s my husband, Arnold. When I told him I wanted to quit my amazing job in tech and go to grad school and get my Masters in transpersonal psychology with no plan with what I was going to do with it, he lovingly backed me up, no questions asked. His unconditional love and support have made it possible for me to take the big risks to create the successful company that I have today. I couldn’t have done it without his love and commitment to me and to us.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?
It’s interesting to me that this is a “happiness” report and not a “joy” report. Much research has uncovered the difference between joy and happiness, but for the purpose of this conversation I’d like to consider them largely the same from the standpoint that both are pleasant states that capture positive emotion — like excitement and gladness.
Regardless, can you imagine what that kind of report would capture now, in 2022, after 2-plus years of COVID? Pandemic or not, I believe that we’ve largely learned to cope with the intense stressors of life by engaging “autopilot” — by numbing out on the constant influx of stimulus from news platforms and social media. This kind of passive engagement serves to protect our reserves. But it comes at a high cost. It means deadening our ability to be fully present and to experience wonder and joy that exists in the right-here-right-now moment. When we’re unable to be fully awake in the present moment, we’re left to rehearse the future or ruminate on the past — both tendencies highly likely to produce anxiety. What’s easy to forget on autopilot is that joy is truly experienced in the present moment.
I also believe joy ranks lower than we’d hope because we’re good at placing our happiness outside of ourselves in a conditional way of living. By this I mean that we believe we need conditions to be a certain way to be happy. We become conditioned to think that we need more money, more stuff, more prestige, etc., in order to feel good and at peace. But that idea leaves us stuck in what I call the “unwinnable quest” and keeps us joyless and in a constant state of unfulfillment.
Can you share with our readers your 5 strategies to live with more Joie De Vivre? Can you please give a story or example for each?
The source of joy, which powers a life of joie de vivre, is living a meaningful life. The source of a meaningful life comes from within by harnessing our ability to choose our focus and inner dialogue. These five strategies help us achieve this ability:
1. Reframing. This a powerful way of freeing ourselves from unnecessary suffering and unlocking states like inner calm and gratitude. Reframing is the practice of telling a different, better, or more relieving narrative about what is. Because our brain is wired to look out for what’s wrong more than what’s right, it’s easy to default to a perspective that focuses on the negative, thereby causing us more suffering. But fortunately, how we describe what is is up to us, and it’s exactly that frame that creates our mood.
For example, if your company is downsizing and you experience an unfortunate layoff, you could look at it as a major loss and that your job and your security as you knew it is now gone. This perspective can cause anxiety — the opposite of joie de vivre. In reframing the situation you could choose to see this as an opportunity. Now, with time off, you have the gift of time to engage in the activities and education you had always put off due to your work obligations. You could decide that, instead, this new turn of events will add to your life in bigger ways than if you’d stayed put in your job.
2. Notice what you say to yourself. What we say to ourselves has more power than many care to realize. Our words create worlds. How you speak about your life, how you speak about what’s possible (or not) breathes life into what is. Notice your inner and outer speech. If you’re narrating your situation in a way that’s not encouraging, tweak your speech so that it’s true, but pointed in the direction of possibility.
For example, when if you continue to tell the story of: “I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what my purpose is, I’m stuck,” you continue to perpetuate that reality which doesn’t feel good. Instead, say: “Clarity is coming as a result of my continued experience. I’m looking forward to seeing what possibilities emerge.” Use your words to narrate yourself into a vibrant reality that represents your best life.
3. Choose nourishing inputs. Similarly, our inputs and focus determine much of our outputs and how we feel. Safeguard your focus and be more discerning about everything you consume — from media, to information, to food, to people. When you choose nourishing inputs you’ll sustain energy and a positive outlook, contributing to increased joy and well-being.
For example, if after a long day of work you turn on the TV to relax, chances are you won’t settle on a horror film. Why? Because you get that watching horror will evoke fear and anxiety instead of calm and relaxation. In the same way that you’re discerning about the shows you watch, you can discern your other inputs. Replace passive engagement in social media to active engagement in learning. Read books to learn something of interest instead. Create friendships with people who are uplifting, supportive and inspiring. Choose a diet that will provide energy instead of deplete you. Your inputs are yours to choose, and they determine much of your state of being.
4. Help others. Pivot from a self-serving attitude to one of service to others. True joy and happiness don’t come from attaining things and serving ourselves. They come from tapping our natural compassion and helping those in need. Instead of asking, “How can I feel more happy?”, try asking, “How can I spread more compassion?” Happiness is the reward for giving joy to others because it evokes a profound sense of purpose and gratitude. There’s no more life-giving emotion than gratitude!
Make it a regular practice to reach out to individuals in need of assistance, comfort, or simply your presence. You’ll end up being more joyful and grateful, and experience more meaning in your life.
5. Practice mindfulness. A fairly recent and radical conclusion by the work of neuroscientist Dr. Richie Davidson and others is that well-being is a skill. Their research strongly suggests that joy and well-being can be learned through a regular mindfulness practice. By nurturing our minds we can learn to attain calmness and peacefulness — all a prerequisite for tapping into our enthusiasm for life. Instead of viewing meditation as a spiritual activity, we can view it as an act of mental and emotional hygiene. In the same way we brush our teeth each day, we can spend as little as 5 minutes in a regular mindfulness practice.
Studies have shown that in as few as 15 days, we start to alter our neural structures in a way that contributes to increased well-being. Several apps offer a simple mindfulness practice, such as Calm, Headspace, or Insight Timer.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspire you to live with a thirst for life?
For me, nothing captures the essence of joie de vivre better than the practice of achieving flow in one’s life — that energizing state of productivity where we lose a sense of time and get lost in an invigorating state of creativity. The works of Steven Kotler, such as The Art of the Impossible, break down how to tap into a state of flow.
When it comes to achieving the impossible and feeling a zest for life, my family and I are obsessed with the sweet documentary, “Biggest Little Farm,” that portrays a couple who buys a huge plot of land outside of Los Angeles and develops a working farm.
Pema Chodron, an American-born Buddhist nun, is an inspiration to me. Her style of teaching is just delightful and her lessons and insights via her books and lectures fill me with an energizing delight and inspiration to be a fully-realized human and to serve humanity.
Please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how it is relevant to you in your life?
My life lesson quote is by Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
We create a sense of joie de vivre by virtue of our focus and how we choose to interpret the world we perceive — what we see as meaningful, good, and possible. Our focus is ours and ours alone, which is both a gift and a responsibility. I’ve decided that there’s too much goodness available in this life experience to not appreciate it. I’ve decided that feeling anything less than eager, enthusiastic, and hopeful about what I’m creating in the world on a daily basis would be ungracious. But it requires that I do the perceptual work to ensure that the lens I choose to look at the world through serves me, and I see this as a moment-by-moment life practice.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I do it in a small way everyday. I’ve been fortunate to have discovered my passions at an early age, and as a result have dedicated my life to honing my ability to help others break free from self-imposed limitations and realize self-love. In my every interaction with others I see an opportunity to elevate the quality of their experience by reflecting back their inherent goodness, and thus raise the vibration of consciousness. I’m committed to making the world a better place one conversation at a time.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My new (first) book, Living On Purpose, was recently published. Getting it out in the world is definitely an exciting project for me. To the degree I’m able to get it out in the world is the degree to which I can help others. I care about this deeply because I know it has the potential to help a lot of people. Over the past 10 years, I’ve distilled my own personal experience of transformation, thousands of conversations, and research to create a clear and practical roadmap for people to get out of their own way and realize true fulfillment and joy. Living On Purpose can benefit many individuals.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want everyone on the planet to know that they are whole, complete, worthy, deserving and enough. My life’s mission is to help heal the planet by minding the relationship each person has with themselves. The moment someone knows themselves as worthy, whole and complete, and practices true unconditional self-love, they can see others and the world with true, real eyes. Compassion, care and understanding emerge. That’s when the world starts to heal.
Thank you for these excellent insights!
Amy Wong: How to Live with Joie De Vivre, Even When It Feels Like The Whole World Is Pulling You… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.