Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.
Everyday I talk to people who only see the bad in life – they complain about how hot it is, or how cold it is, or it’s raining, or they’re late for work and it’s all someone else’s fault (sometimes it is, sometimes its’ not) or the cashier didn’t smile or the bills aren’t paid or, or, or, I could go on but I won’t. And, sometimes life does suck. But that doesn’t mean we are bound to a joyless life.
Regardless of the circumstances, whether I am filled with joy or not all depends on my attitude and how I look at my life. I am not equating joy with happiness. Happiness is fleeting, based on emotions and circumstances. I am very happy when its’ my birthday or I get to spend time with my family. I am very happy when I get paid and I have a little money left over to buy some books. I am really happy when I have a bowl of my favorite ice cream! But none of those things brings me joy.
Joy is internal; it is peace in the midst of a storm; it is a calm reassurance that no matter how bad the world looks right now, all will be well; it is gratitude; it is love; it is faith; and unlike fly-away happiness, it is constant. Joy is unwavering, we only need to tap into it and allow it to fill us up even when life sucks.
…I have too much of the vanity of human affairs to expect felicity from the splendid scenes of public life. I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy in whatever situation I may be;
for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our disposition, and not upon our circumstances.
We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us in our minds wherever we go.
–Martha Washington, Letter to Mercy Otis Warren, December 26, 1789.
William O. Foss, First Ladies Quotations Book
Each morning upon awakening I have a choice – to be cheerful and happy or to be miserable and grumpy. More often than not I choose to be miserable and grumpy. That is my natural state of being. For some souls, their natural state of being is happiness and cheerfulness. And people like that can drive me crazy! (I used to have a roommate that was like that – my goodness cheerfulness is hard to take in the morning!) Later, after I’ve woken up a bit, then I am able to make the choice to be cheerful despite my circumstances.
I do agree with Martha Washington, that we make up our minds as to how we want our lives go – at least as far as we look at it. Like everyone on this planet I have had days (weeks, months, even years) when the world seems to fall down around me and inside me. Some of that time is spent in justifiable grumpiness and misery; after all, to deny the emotion is to just postpone its expression.
But at some point the misery just becomes a habit and is no longer of value. I have to choose to be happy and cheerful. So even if I don’t feel like it, don’t want to do it yet know I must do it, I put a smile on my face and try to be cheerful. This is my first step toward understanding a lesson in joy.
I don’t just want to be happy or cheerful. That smacks of hiding behind a mask of false emotion. But in order for me to get there – to get to joy – I must be willing to receive it; and for me to be willing is to be cheerful and try to find the bright side of my life. I often look to my furchildren for both joy and happiness. They make me laugh, they comfort me, and express their love to me in their own unique ways.
I guess what I’m really saying is each of us has a choice – a choice to sit in cow dung or to get out, take a shower and get on with life. What will you choose?