Merriam-Webster defines the word joy as – A feeling of great happiness.
Although that is a nice definition, I also find it lacking. To me, joy transcends happiness, just as it is more than pleasure, fun, enjoyment, delight, and so many other similar words. Joy does not come so easily and so often, and yet, or because of this, it is a singular and wonderful experience. As I write that last word experience, that word too seems inadequate. Joy seems to come from somewhere deeper than a fleeting emotion. It is perhaps a gift that is left to us when we are very lucky, when we are very aware, when we are open to receiving it. Maybe those words are mumbo-jumbo and mean nothing, or maybe they are the essence of what we seek in life. I choose to think they are vital.
In a age when we are bombarded with information, I sometimes feel I am overwhelmed with keeping up with not what brings me joy, but what often brings me confusion, anxiety, weariness, and mental overload. Those feelings lead to frustration, anger, and sleeplessness.
But when I’m able to slow down, to take stock of what I want in my life, I find it is often there for the taking. This past Sunday, three of those times occurred. I believe it was on the TV program Sunday Morning that the first one came. A short, simple story about a program in a Maine prison. It showed the work of inmates who create beautiful art. Men who had committed heinous crimes, and would never see a day of freedom outside of prison walls, were creating beautiful works of art. These same men have worked and graduated from college programs while incarcerated, knowing they will never be free men. The beauty was they were not trying to excuse their crimes; they were trying to keep or regain their dignity. And I believe they were succeeding.
In a previous episode of 60 Minutes, I watched a program about efforts to save and increase the numbers of gorillas in Rwanda. After many years of decline, the numbers have now grown because of a program of gorilla tourism and using the money to benefit the nearby villages and to protect those beautiful giant animals.
We also watched the CNN Heroes program. Stories of everyday people making extraordinary differences in the lives of fellow humans across this planet.
Here is the commonality. In each of the programs, there was great joy in those being presented. Inmates doing life terms, game wardens (some who were previously gorilla poachers) and people doing wonderful things for others were in every sense of the word – JOYFUL. And as an observer of that, I too felt joy. It wasn’t news of division, great wealth by a few, the newest Porsche, or some magnificent chateau in France. It was the joy of beauty and goodness. In each of those moments, I found tears coming to my eyes. Feelings I want to maintain in my life.
I also follow Facebook and see an endless stream of everything. Some beautiful, some mundane, and some hateful. Political ranting, yummy bowls of someone’s breakfast oatmeal, and ads for a beauty cream that will make my 73 year old face look like Brad Pitt. But when I’m lucky, there is something else. A photo of a painted bunting that is more beautiful than any bird could be. A short video of the unbridled happiness of dogs when their owners walk through the front joy. This morning I saw a photograph of a mother orangutan holding her baby. The look on the tiny animal was pure adoration. A look no different from that of a proud human mother seeing her child for the first time.
And I am near tears of JOY when I see that.
The question then becomes, what do I, what do others do if the quest is joy. I can only speak for myself. I’m retired and have enough (more than enough) of what I need. I no longer have to go to work each day. I have few time demands. I can choose how I spend much of my time. But having those gifts does not guarantee that I will somehow magically find joy.
When I was in my career and counseled others, I often attempted to explain that one view of getting “better” was to look at ways to find more balance in their lives. One way of looking at this was to take steps in getting more of what they wanted and, looking at ways to having less of what they did not want in their lives. As an example, one might work to reduce stress (an unwanted issue) by taking walks, eating a meal more slowly at the diner table rather than in front of the TV, reducing the number of commitments that were not mandatory, or a plan to lower debt. On the other side of the coin might be wanting more family time, being active with a hobby, or listening to music. I’d suggested thinking about turning off the TV for thirty minutes nightly and discussing the day with family members. Telling the wife you wanted an hour on the weekend to learn to build a birdhouse. Even something as simple as taking five minutes to listen to a favorite jazz tune before going to bed. Nothing magical in those thoughts. The magic (or difficulty) was in getting people to do them, to change their behavior in order to change their lives.
It has taken me some time to know, to really know what brings me joy. Now that I know it, it becomes for me the same issues as those in which I counseled others. Nature brings me great joy. Animals bring me joy. Friends bring me joy. Writing brings me joy. Suzanne brings me great joy.
Hearing news on TV that is little more than hate-filled tribal politics brings me great sadness. Fixating on man’s inhumanity to man brings sadness. Feeling I can do nothing about the wanton destruction of our planet, hunger, poverty, racism, bigotry, and endless war brings me sadness.
So what can I do? I can be out in nature often and observe, deeply observe, what it is and my place in it. I can turn off the news and stay informed without staying angry. I can write honest words, and I can counter inhumanity by being kind. I can give my small share to this planet, those who are hungry and poor. I can try to always avoid being racist, or a bigot. I can live my life in peace. I can be a loyal friend to humans and to animals. I can tread lightly on this earth. To paraphrase Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I can weave my one stitch in the magnificent tapestry of life. That I can do, and I can know it is enough.
In the most simple terms, I can seek joy. And if that is your desire, so can you.
I wish all a peaceful, safe and happy holiday.
Denni’s Wise Words
Read the poetry of Mary Oliver. She loved nature, she loved life, and she wrote beautifully. Mary Oliver was one of the necessary voices of this world.
From Mary Oliver –
“Let me keep company always with those who say ‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment and bow their heads.”