Finding joy used to be like looking for sugar in a candy store, finding wonder and happiness was like stumbling through a daisy field looking for a flower. Without trying there was just so much happy to notice, and so much excitement that punctuated every day.
Some of that was due to my natural temperament, some of it was probably connected to being younger, some of it was undoubtedly due to the unearned privilege of being insulated from the hardships that so many people face on a daily basis. It wasn’t that everything was constantly smooth or went according to plan, but those glitches felt like the exception and were fairly easy to recover from.
If I had to write about joy at that point, it would have been no problem.
It’s a little harder now, though not impossible. It’s a matter of perspective.
Last year I tried to write about joy during Advent, and even tried a couple art journal pages to work it out, but none of them were quite right. Here’s where you can check that out. There I mention a difference between joy and happiness.
Joy seems to be consistently connected to a spiritual state, a grounded connectedness to ourselves, those around us, and a higher spiritual purpose. …Happiness is almost a consumable good; joy is more durable.
These days finding joy is more difficult. There are so many things that seem to be going off the rails, globally and locally. Here’s a summary of sound bites from this year, and when listening it’s no wonder it can be hard to feel joyful. It’s been a helluva year and our political in particular continues to be intensely disturbing. Sex scandals, election tampering, a gag order for scientists, undercutting environmental safeguards, it’s all overwhelming and disheartening.
However, at what point could we ever have looked at things in the world on a large scale and feel joyful? There’s always been something going haywire, some despot wreaking havoc, some natural disaster displacing whole communities. You’d think we’d start to notice that “desolation” is humanity’s default setting.
Okay, I’m not saying we’re quite like that movie, but you get the idea.
According to the Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, desolation is one of two states humans move from and into. Sounds dramatic doesn’t it? The opposite of desolation is “consolation”. Consolation is used to describe moods of harmony and settledness, desolation is used to describe moods of inner turmoil or disconnectedness. (Click to learn more.) It is assumed that people will move from consolation to disconsolation. People won’t stay in one or the other indefinitely, which is important to remember so we have hope and appreciation.
Hope and appreciation.
I think those are both tied to joy.
The thing I’ve discovered is my joyfulness improves when I adjust my perspective from being focused on large scale things down to smaller scale things:
The sound of my boys together downstairs practicing crazy loud music on their instruments, and actually being able to make out a tune.
Watching someone open a door for a stranger, and the stranger respond with gratitude.
The confidence of having a full tank of gas in a car you trust to get you to your destination.
Waking up one of your kids and having one of their first statements be, “I love you, Mom.”
These small moments remind us of our humanity, remind us of our smallness, and help restore out connectedness to others around us.
When I pay attention and take time to notice these things, I do better. I discover joy, that warm feeling that buoys us through hard times, that quiet confidence that there is good in the world if we’ll only remember to call it out in ourselves and others.
Joy can be a choice, and we have agency in cultivating more of it.
This is not joy that disregards the facts, this is joy that searches out the positive, the good, the things that tie us together as humanity and elevate us to our better selves. This is joy that seeks the details, the secret acts of good will, the quiet gestures of connection and celebrates those. This is calm noticing that settles down into the smallest moments, and then acknowledges their energy and the positive force they ripple out into the world. This is no flimsy pollyanna cliche. This is a brave act.
I really do wish you a joy-filled holiday season and believe you can help create that by deciding to choose joy. Go get ’em tiger.