While joy is fundamental to our living life well, many of us can’t fully enter into it, given the stress of daily living. It’s just plain hard to have joy when you’re out of work, ill, or facing problems in a relationship. Each of us has his own stresses. Often, however, perspective is everything, especially when you consider what others around you suffer. I was reminded the other day of this while watching a 60 Minutes segment featuring a paraplegic woman completely dependent on loved ones for her care. She was grateful to be part of an experiment in being fitted with a mechanical arm embedded in her skull. Clearly, she was a woman who had joy despite her circumstances.
It’s important for all of us to look up, not down; to be grateful for what we have and each new day; in short, to think good thoughts, or as Buddha put it long ago, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
Below I’ve listed several ways of finding joy, and I know you can add your own:
Friends: You don’t need a lot of them and consider yourself blessed if you have that one good person in your life who listens, counsels wisely, and finds time for you. Friendship is a two-way street, but when it’s on, wow, what a difference to find you’re not alone.
Family: Throughout the years I’ve been close to my siblings, keeping in-touch despite the miles through letters, phone calls and occasional visits. Families can be sources of stress, too, but when they function well, they’re our refuge in a turbulent world. My greatest joy is my wife and daughter, my allies day in, day out.
Simplicity: Joy is independent of money. What matters is abundant living, or investing in those aspects that enhance being rather than possession. It’s giving priority to your needs, not your wants. A 1500 square foot house may be less than what others opt for, but if it suffices, then go for it. Addiction often keeps company with materialism, fed by a need to be validated, and so what we have is never quite enough.
Volunteering: Helping others puts you on the fast track to finding joy. And there is so much need. The ethicist philosopher Peter Singer contends that if all of us gave just 5 % of our income to helping the poor or wiping out disease and the like we’d create a much better world. If we matched our donations with just 3 or 4 hours of our weekly time, we’d move the goal posts still nearer and more quickly.
Awareness: The French writer, Gustave Flaubert, made a comment I’ve never forgotten: “Anything observed closely enough becomes interesting.” Now you can have fun with this idea. Take out a sheet of paper, for example, and brainstorm all the delights you can come up with in association with little children. In addition to their innocent honesty, inquisitiveness, and trust, I think with fondness of their giggling, say when watching a puppet show. Cultivate awareness. Keep a journal. Record your joy at seeing a pink tapestry sunset, first daffodils in bloom, the symphony of an early summer morning chorus of cardinals. Look closely and in every nook. Joy can be found in surprising ways, if were ready for it.
Focusing on the present: Some folks find it difficult to free themselves from their past. This, of course, helps psychologists feed their families. We need to bury our dead–our resentments and regrets, follies and failures. Some reach for the future to relieve themselves from the weight of the present. The truth is that the present writes our future. We should live each day as though it were our last, thinking positively and doing well. A day well spent is a day that gives joy. Each day is an act of grace, an opportunity to begin again.
Reality thinking: You’re unlikely to see this item among sources for joy, but I include it here as fundamental to all human happiness as joy can prove to be a double-edged sword. Life is replete with loss, whether of our children moving far away, the loss of our mate, or of friends across the years. The price of joy is that it derives from what we ultimately forfeit, for sorrow slumbers in the same bed. Knowing this should heighten our joy in what tomorrow may take away.