Tuesday, May 14, 2013

a river moving in you

I've been thinking lately about joy.  I let joy leave my life, and for the past couple of months, I've been working on getting it back.  I'm not miserable, and I'm not depressed.  I'm still doing what I need to do, getting things done, taking care of my family and our animals and putting one foot in front of another.  But there hasn't been much joy.  This is a work in progress, I have no great conclusions to pass along here.  Just several random thoughts, plus some quotes I found on The Google, and a hope that you will pass your ideas along to me.

an aside: since like everyone I did a mini happy dance when hyperboleandahalf reappeared on my feed, I want to say that none of this applies to someone who is truly depressed.  After reading her description, I don't think I ever have been.  If you are, you have my sympathy, and you can ignore this.

I think joy is different than happiness.  Happiness comes when things are right, everything's coming up roses, you get a book contract or a promotion to the job you always wanted or a raise.  Or you're on vacation.  All it takes is a blow, something that goes wrong, vacation ends, to turn happiness into sadness, grief, or pain.  And that's as it should be--the circle of life and all that.

But maybe joy is something different.  It springs from life itself, from the gift of being alive, waking up to another day, a whole new world every single 24 hours.  I think it has something to do with gratitude, with acknowledging that gift.  It's #2 on the list of fruits of the Spirit in St. Paul's letter to the church at Galatia: "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control..." It seems to me it should be something that bubbles up of its own accord if we can manage to get out of its way.

If that's true, it should be possible to feel joy even when things aren't right, when things aren't going your way, when getting through the day feels like pushing Sisyphus's boulder up a hill.  But I certainly haven't been feeling it lately.

Maybe part of it is slowing down, noticing.  Colors, sounds, spring.  The world is coming to life around me as I sit here typing in front of an open window.

Maybe part of it is taking a vacation from cynicism, from that dry, dreary, unshakeable belief that if anything bad can happen, it's going to happen, to me, at the worst possible moment.  Because this is demonstrably not true.

Maybe part of it is lowering the bar on our expectations.  We're Americans, we have a tremendous sense of entitlement. We believe that we're entitled to a great life, 100% health, a good job, a nice house, a car to drive, a happy childhood safely tucked away in our memories. We believe that we deserve ease, comfort, spa treatments, and chocolate for dessert.  So we're not only disappointed but angry when things don't go the way we want. In much of the rest of the world, I suspect that three meals a day and a roof overhead is cause for contentment.

Maybe part of it is not taking the burden of changing the world too seriously.  It's not like any specific one of us was given the job to change the world. Maybe each of us can let go of the burden now and then.  We can  do our part, and then let other people take over when we need a break.

Maybe part of it is developing a more robust sense of self, and also a healthy respect for the person I am.  That way I wouldn't be dependent on the people around me in order to be able to be myself.  I'd like to be able to say that I am who I am no matter what's going on around me.  (cue Popeye.)

Maybe part of it is taking that most difficult step of faith and believing that we are just fine as we are, without any changes.  I think part of my lack of joy recently has to do with realizing that I'm never going to become the amazing person I wish I was.  I'm 51, almost 52.  If it was going to happen, it would have happened by now.  But the flip side of that is that by concentrating on that amazing person I wish I was, I miss the amazing person I am right now.  If change is going to come, it needs to be motivated by joy, not the deadening belief that I'm a disaster and I'll only be a worthwhile person if I change.

I spotted a book on Paperback Swap a couple of weeks ago that may help:  Second Innocence: Reconnecting with Joy and Wonder.  Haven't read it yet, but I will pass along any gems of wisdom.

Some thoughts from others:
When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.  --Rumi

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. --Thich Nhat Hanh

"joy and sorrow are inseparable. . . together they come and when one sits alone with you . . remember that the other is asleep upon your bed."  Kahil Gibran

And I found out that line I passed along last week is from Teddy Roosevelt:  "Comparison is the thief of joy."


  1. I wonder if joy is tied to the act of being grateful. For me gratitude is tied to faith in God (or in goodness or meaning or significance). The 50s have been the decade of thanking God for the things that frighten me, embarrass me, frustrate me or anger me. .....at least, that's what I finally do when I remember; until then I just stew because I'm afraid or embarrassed or frustrated or angry :-)

    1. yes, I think gratitude is key. It's kind of the opposite of that sense of entitlement. I hadn't quite put it into words, but I think that idea of being thankful for the things that trip you up (frighten, embarrass, frustrate) is part of what I'm working on.

  2. Cheery-O said it better than I could. And she said it first.