On Joy

Yesterday, I presented my thoughts on happiness to the best of my ability for what time I had allotted to that activity. Today’s topic is joy. Please note these are simply my musings, not words I think are written in stone. When I write this, I am aware that there will be many points that I will miss. That is where you come in, dear reader, to add your thoughts on the topic in the Comments section. Consider this a jumping off point since I am limited in the amount of time I have to devote to this exploration. Today is booked except for a small window of time right now. Alas, let’s see what comes up, shall we?

Joy is a visceral reaction that is for me less frequent than happiness and also less easily obtained. There is no product to buy that will automatically produce joy – at least to my knowledge – and there is no advertising campaign that aims to sell joy (except, ironically, for a dishwashing liquid). Every consumer knows that it would be a lie for an advertiser to claim his/her product can produce joy. Joy is happiness on steroids and it manifests itself differently in every person. One person’s joyful response might lack meaning to someone else. However, there are a few universal situations that are pretty much guaranteed to produce joy. How often have you seen a pet owner reunited with a beloved dog or cat, the tearful return of a loved one, or the graduation of a child, parent or grandparent in a commercial to sell Coca Cola or Chevrolets? These are universal moments of joy, along with births, weddings, 50th wedding anniversary parties, and sports team victories. Moments we all accept as producing pure joy.

Apart from these universal moments, joy has another more private side. This is when joy arises at odd and unexpected moments. For example, I might wake up early at our orange grove and see the rapid flutter of a hummingbird’s wings as the tiny bird buries its long beak in the middle of an orange blossom. That exquisite visual experience might produce a feeling of joy. Or having my little granddaughter lay her head against my shoulder, sigh, then nestle closer. Ah, what joy that can bring. Or I might listen to the sonorous sounds of J.S. Bach and feel the music touch me on a such a deep level that I feel a surge of joy. These events all have a special meaning to me personally. I love hummingbirds, my granddaughter and Bach. Perhaps someone else would be left cold by these things, but feel an equal surge of joy at the sound of a trolley car bell, the teasing jostle of a brother, or the music of Asleep at the Wheel. This is the personal side of joy, the part that takes into account our likes and dislikes along with our unique histories.

I believe joy is blunted for many people because of personal pain. Whatever the mechanism that exists to experience a flood of elation is simply non-operational. The lists of events that could cause this to happen are no surprise to any of us. They include, but are not limited to hunger, extreme poverty, displacement, illness, grief, cruelty, fear, abandonment, and emotional as well as physical abuse. I have no words to salve those who have suffered under these conditions. I can only pray that time will help heal those deep wounds, and moments of joy will miraculously reappear.

Whether the emotional wounds we have suffered fall inside or outside the Bell curve, I believe joy is one of those emotions that we all hope to experience as much as possible. Joy elevates and celebrates our life experiences; it also brings us back to those early childhood days when life was simple and the discovery of a colorful caterpillar could produce awe and wonder. These are the sister words to joy, which help to provide an understanding of its true composition. Joy often comes when the ordinary is suspended and for just a moment, we experience the extraordinary. It often comes when we stop with all our busyness and allow ourselves to fully engage in life in all its glory.

We might all do well to look at the world each day for at least five minutes from the perspective of a toddler. We might find ourselves focused on something so small and yet so uniquely wonderful that we feel that surge of joy that can be so elusive. Aw, what a treat that would be.

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