Some time ago, a friend told me that joy was different from happiness. She made a convincing argument that happiness is usually something, short, fast and fleeting. Yet, still we pursue it. And pursue it. And then pursue it some more. But, I think that, much like addictive substances or experiences our wish for a state of happiness continues to tug at our sleeves and make us hungry to seek out yet another outlet for “happiness” or a “happy” experience.
I’m not sure I have been a great recipient of happiness. Perhaps I was too suspicious of its fleeting nature. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention. No matter.
My friend told me that, in her view joy was more like an ongoing feeling of contentment or well-being. I liked the sound of that. Contentment, I thought, would be easier to fall back on to if the world treated me unkindly on Tuesday or overwhelmed me next Saturday. Contentment might provide me with a strong foundation from which to appreciate the little things that give each life texture and meaning.
This conversation on the subject of joy occurred probably two years ago. Since then, I feel as if I have been trying to capture joy. I’ve certainly considered what it is quite frequently. I’m still not sure I know. So, with great fear and trepidation, I decided to begin a blog to capture some of my thoughts on what actions, images, stories or other events hold the possibility or image of joy in them. Today that exercise — which I think of as a type of spiritual exercise — begins.
I’ll begin by saying that I can take no credit for the next few ideas. I have heard these thoughts from other friends whose consideration on the subject of joy makes sense to me and has set me on this path of contemplation.
“Joy is a particular (some might say peculiar) quality, different from and deeper than mere happiness. Joy is a sustained sense of well being and internal peace…”
The word joy comes from the Greek (Yes, gentle reader, I like to muck around the in the meaning of words!) and literally means “for the heart, in its deepest place of passion and feelings to be very well.” Another friend, a very wise monk, has spoken on the subject at greater length. Here is a little of what he perceives this most under-discussed characteristic to embody:
“To have joy is to rejoice. To rejoice is to have a deep sense of delight…so how can this spiritual gift be tapped and unwrapped?
“Joy takes time. Joy is not fast food. It comes as a by-product of living a savored life, of having time and taking time to ‘smell the flowers.’ Joy needs time. Take time, take at least some time, to do one thing at a time…Take time, at least some time each day, if you are walking, to just walk. Take time, at least some time, if you are looking, to just look; if you are listening, to just listen. If you are sipping iced tea or watering plants or petting the dog, take time just to do that. Do one thing at a time, and do that as often as you can. Take the time to let the fragrances and aromas of life penetrate to the deepest part of your being, where they can be savored.”
I like the idea of savoring moments of life. Things go so fast now. With all our inter-connectedness, and our crazy-making attempts to cram more and more into 24 hours, when do we savor our lives and not just a glass of wine? But, I think I would prefer a sense of life being very well — even at the worst of times — than just to feel the void of busyness each and every day. Expecting that a frenetic pace will somehow keep the demons or the fears away is not realistic. Difficult things pop up in our packed schedules and then we have to schedule time to go and see a friend in the hospital who has cancer and is frightened and lonely! Isn’t there something out of sync with this type of decision-making?
So, I will think about my life this week in terms of savoring all that comes — both bad and good — as the texture of a joy-based and joy-filled life.
In all things, I wish you peace.