If there’s secondary pain, there must also be secondary joy.

In the mindfulness world, we often talk about the distinction between primary pain and secondary pain.

Primary pain being those pains we cannot control, the secondary pain being the negative thoughts and emotions that we cake on top of an already difficult experience.

Mitigating the secondary pain is hugely freeing, but what about the other end of the spectrum? Is there such a thing as primary joy and secondary joy?

My father, who was curious what the mindfulness perspective would be on something like secondary joy, first made this suggestion to me. He wondered if the intention was to mitigate the secondary joy in the same way we would secondary pain. It’s a good inquiry, and I do think there are different perspectives on it; I’ll offer two.

1.) Yes, the mindfulness approach may be to just be with a good experience independent of the story about HOW good it is. For instance, being able to watch and experience a sunset without ruminating on how beautiful and amazing the experience is. There is something precious about staying with the primary experience, since the secondary rumination is just story and one step removed from the actual experience. This also helps us to not get too attached to the positive experience, which allows us to hold positive experiences spaciously and gently without gripping.

2.) Mindfulness can also help us nurture the positive. It helps us to sustain our attention on a positive experience rather than just skipping through it, which can aid us in appreciating it more deeply and enhancing the experience while it’s there. One can also carry this into other moments, where they intentionally reflect on something good that happened, and feel the joy of that memory.

Both of these strategies can be used and help cultivate a mind that is equanimous and able to experience positive emotions.

Relish in your secondary joy.