What is joy? To me, joy is essential, visceral and deep, like love energy. It is to be found everywhere and in the simple things, walking barefoot in the grass, listening to waves roll in, the I love you’s I long to hear. If you ask my nine year old son joy is The Three Stooges, Marx Brothers, beef. Ask my daughter and she says candidly, she just doesn’t know, and that’s why she sees the psychologist.
Inextricably, the things that bring me joy, even ecstasy, have to do with relationships: my relationship with the world, with nature; my relationship with food; my relationship with my family, with friends; and most significantly my relationship with God. Some other things that bring joy:
The wind, autumn, the rustle of leaves, new polka dot stockings, dancing, laughter, running along the ocean, hiking in a forest, performing well, reaching the top of a mountain, tiramisu, really pretty knickers, sunrises and sunsets, deep dark chocolate, being understood, a massage, a candle light dinner, an evening by the fire, tea, listening to jazz, a multi-colored dress, picnics, flowers, snuggling in bed, yoga, a really good work out, writing honest feelings to share, pomegranates, the fragrance of lavender, strawberries, reading poetry, bird-watching, holding a book written by a friend, cheesecake, someone sharing their secret inner world with me, giving gifts and watching or imagining a face light up, the unmentionable nirvana.
“Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” – Mother Theresa
I remember reading somewhere that Life is Suffering. I think it was the Buddha that said this. It’s one of the great noble truths. Alas, he could have been talking about my birthdays. My birthdays have been a source of pain. As a child, I remember cracking my head open in my yard at my own birthday party on a badly placed turnaround play-set. I had a concussion, blood all over me, and more stitches than I could count. Then there was the birthday where I hemorrhaged with the period that would not stop, after losing my unborn child. Then there was the time my mother broke her hip. But let us not dilly dally. Here are some other things that bring me pain:
Fear, anxiety, the illness of a child, miscarriage, gossip, being objectified, malignant silence, betrayal, being judged, being used, the natural pain felt during change, the natural pain felt when things don’t change, and the loss of a loved one.
Life and love are perilous. I have found that pain is intrinsic within unconditional love, but that it is a necessary pain if we want to experience being truly alive. And oh yes, I do.
“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” -- Mother Theresa
Joy and pain are the real life deal, caused by people, moments, events which matter in life. They are the alchemical brew for transformation of the soul. This brew, I believe, constitutes true and enduring happiness. I’ve found that it is not just the joys and ecstasies in life but the pain and agonies as well which accompany happiness. The things that truly matter to me are often the most difficult for me, but they are also the things that bring me the most joy.
I’ve found that how I deal with them (joy and pain) matters. The choices I make about them matter. A few years ago, I heard about a Harvard researcher who published a study based on information he obtained from the Framingham Heart Study*. He essentially concluded that if you are around happy people you yourself are going to be happy, and vice versa. In fact, happiness is contagious according to that study. It spreads to family, friends, acquaintances, even people with whom you have no direct contact. In essence, happiness comes down to choices that we can control. But for me, this is so much easier said than done. Especially when I look back on moments I spent curled up in a ball on the floor in tears.
That is how it is for me. We take the pain along with the joy and love, we pick it up, we don’t even give it a second thought. A song from my early childhood comes to mind, He Ain’t Heavy. He’s My Brother. Earlier tonight, my internally injured son reached up to me and said, “Mommy, can you still carry me? I’m too tired to make it.” “Of course sweetheart,” I said lifting him in my arms, “You’re not heavy, you’re my boy.”
* Boston Medical Journal – BMJ 2008; 337:a2338