[do action=”vfdictstart” title=”Joy”/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good.”/] [do action=”vfdictend”/]
Great delight or happiness caused by something good.
Joy is the feeling brought by the expectation or possession of some good.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.” author=”Helen Keller”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Comparison is the thief of joy.” author=”Unknown”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Give not over thy soul to sorrow; and afflict not thyself in thy own counsel. Gladness of heart is the life of man and the joyfulness of man is length of days.” author=”Ecclesiastes”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Gratitude is the mother of joy.” author=”Unknown”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Joy is the feeling of grinning inside.” author=”Melba Colgrove”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one: the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” author=”George Bernard Shaw”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” author=”Mother Teresa”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”I have committed myself to joy. I have come to realize that those who make space for joy, those who prefer nothing to joy, those who desire the utter reality, will most assuredly have it. We must not be afraid to announce it to refugees, slum dwellers, saddened prisoners, angry prophets. Now and then we must even announce it to ourselves. In this prison of now, in this cynical and sophisticated age, someone must believe in joy.” author=”Richard Rohr”/]
The Difference between Happiness and Joy
Most people have a hard time understanding the difference between “Happiness” and “Joy”. When it comes to nourishing our souls, “Happiness” is like a candy bar (not very nutritional), and “Joy” is like a plate of meat, potatoes, and vegetables (fills you up and is good for you too!).
Happiness is when we are delighted and pleased with good fortune (often outside forces which we don’t control) such as good health, good relationships, a good job, a good house, and plenty of food and clothing.
Joy on the other hand runs much deeper than happiness. Joy is a matter of our soul, it runs deep into the core of us and radiates throughout our being. Joy is the response to something bigger, something eternal and often comes from conquering oneself and willingly enduring suffering, insults, pain, humiliation, or hardships for a virtuous cause. “Joy” is based on the permanent unshakeable knowledge that in the big picture…..all will be well with your soul.
If we look at the messages coming from our post-modern media, we could easily conclude that being happy is the most important thing in the world. TV and magazine ads scream that we have to buy this product or that service because it will make us happy – and after all, don’t we deserve to be happy? In movies and television shows, characters leave their partners, change their lives, and break the rules – all in a quest for happiness. The pursuit of happiness dominates our society, but the “worlds” happiness is often shallow and empty.
True “Joy” nourishes our soul even when our lives are often difficult and filled with hardship. This kind of joy has little to do with buying the right car, clothes, or cologne. It has nothing to do with leaving your partner for a younger, better-looking person, or making millions of dollars in the stock market. The promises of “happiness” that the world tries to sell are futile, empty, and destructive. True “Joy” doesn’t depend on having all the material things you want. It isn’t connected to having an easy life. Instead, it’s a deep and powerful emotion that comes from inside, uplifting and sustaining us even when it appears as though the world is crashing down around us. The seeds of true joy are sprouting in us even when we experience hardship, suffering, and pain. We decide, by controlling our human nature whether to let these seeds grow into joy or not. True “Joy” is something we choose. Every time we make the choice to be contented, to be thankful, to celebrate the good in life rather than complaining about all that’s wrong, we are choosing to experience true “Joy”.
Our temporal lives will always be filled with pain and hardship. You may be suffering from a chronic illness, or perhaps from depression; you may be trapped in an unhappy marriage, you could be jobless, facing crippling financial problems, or you may be experiencing the illness or death of a loved one. Happiness won’t do much to change these circumstances, other than maybe provide a quick “fix” (enter drugs, alcohol, sex, consumerism).
But real, Spirit-filled joy is possible, no matter what the world throws at you. It’s something that nothing and no one can take away from you.
How important is it to be happy? If by “happy” you mean the momentary contentment that results from having all our desires met, then the answer would be that that kind of happiness is not very important. But if you are referring to true “Joy”, the feeling that comes from suffering through the worlds pain and hardships and choosing to not complain about it, being thankful for what you do have, and celebrating your blessings…..then it’s very important.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself” author=”Mahatma Gandhi”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is” author=”C.S. Lewis”/]
THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS MORNING
One of America’s greatest poets is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The year 1860 found Longfellow happy in his life, enjoying a widening recognition, and elated over the election of Abraham Lincoln which he believed signaled the triumph of freedom and redemption for the nation.
The following year the Civil War began. On July 9, 1861 Longfellow’s wife, Fanny, was near an open window sealing locks of her daughter’s hair, using hot sealing wax. Suddenly her dress caught fire and engulfed her with flames. Her husband, sleeping in the next room, was awaked by her screams. As he desperately tried to put out the fire and save his wife, he was severely burned on his face and hands. Fanny died the next day. Longfellow’s severe burns would not even allow him to attend Fanny’s funeral. His white beard, which so identified with him, was one of the results of the tragedy – the burn scars on his face made shaving almost impossible. In his diary for Christmas day 1861 he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.”
In 1862 the toll of war dead began to mount and in his diary for that year Longfellow wrote of Christmas, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”
In 1863 his son who had run away to join the Union army was severely wounded and returned home in December. There is no entry in Longfellow’s diary for that Christmas.
But on Christmas Day 1864 – at age 57 – Longfellow sat down to try to capture, if possible, the joy of the season. It goes like this:
I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
His faith in the power of God and man to join and transcend the horrors of war gave birth to this song, inspired by his hearing the ringing out of the Christmas bells.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Joy is increased by spreading it to others” author=”Robert Murray”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”He who has not looked on Sorrow will never see Joy.” author=”Kahlil Gibran”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both” author=”Ralph Waldo Emerson”/]
It is the nature of joy that we feel both childlike and appreciative for being alive. When we feel joyful we feel light-hearted. And although we may accept that our joy is often transitory, we still desire it to be a constant in our life. Why? Because we know joy is a measure of our happiness, an outcome of pleasurable experiences, and perhaps a measure of the abundance we sometimes feel. Furthermore, the joy we feel may be directly related to our satisfaction in helping others, or the gladness we feel for their wellbeing. We all know the feeling of inner joy — a kind of bubbling contentment. And we also know how good it feels to share our joy outwardly with others. In both instances, it is difficult to separate genuine joy from a sense of peacefulness. The reason is because joy is comforting, and it gives us safe and secure feelings amidst the tension or distress of daily living. In this sense, making room for joy throughout the day is akin to experiencing momentary sanctuary for peace.
Expressions of Joy
What gives you joy in life? This is not a difficult question to answer for most people, yet many will attest to desiring more joy. In other words, there is a felt sense of lack of it, as if the search for lasting joy is an unending quest. Do you feel lacking in joy in certain aspects of your life? If so, are you able to do something about it? Consider the following ways joy can be expressed.
Joy often grows out of the practice of generosity and compassion.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979, was undaunted in her daily desire to help those in need. She said: “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Mother Teresa’s joy was inseparable from her love, compassion and generosity. Are you able to experience joy out of helping others and being generous with your time, energy, skills, knowledge or financial contributions? Joy grows out of practicing reverence for life, and in embracing the inherent beauty that permeates all beings and nature.
Joy from awe and wonder.
Joy often has a kinship with awe and wonder, characterized by a feeling of in separateness with the object of our admiration. The joy of witnessing life is different than doing something to life. The joy of just being in the presence of a flower, sunset, hummingbird, child, person of different ethnicity — this type of joy precludes any desire to act. The philosopher/poet Theodore Roethke talks about such joy: “I have merged, like the bird, with the bright air,/And my thought flies to the place by the bo-tree./Being, not doing, is my first joy.”
Do you make time in your day to simply be — to bear witness and merge with your surroundings so that a renewed sense of awe and wonder gives you joy?
Joy is a natural extension of showing kindness and gratitude.
This feeling of joy is often characterized by the expression of “wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve.” Furthermore, it is seen as a sincere smile. The Vietnamese monk, activist and writer, Thich Nhat Hanh has dedicated his life to help people experience peace, and he exemplifies this by his beatific smile. He says: “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” It is not surprising that our most revered images of God-inspired or God-illuminated persons are of them smiling. Such images inspire us to readily access the joyful peace they feel inwardly as that which we desire ourselves. The Sufi faith tradition uses the phrase, “the smiling forehead,” to describe the qualities of joy, warmth, insight and revelation experienced in deep inner peace — with oneself and/or with God. Such peace is illuminating, and one’s smile is a way of emitting a light of joy to the world. Sufi master and leader, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan reminds us: “Illumination is always linked with a kind of smile, like the mysterious, lingering smile of the Buddha.” Would you say smiling comes easy to you, or are you aware that your face often tends to be serious? How do you express kindness and gratitude — does this give you joy?
Joy is the foundation of a spiritual life.
Most faith traditions consider joy a human birthright and inherent condition of Creation. Lutheran mystic Martin Buber believes that “The beating heart of the universe is holy joy.” Philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin similarly acknowledges: “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” Such words are comforting, yet most spiritual aspirants would probably agree that the spiritual path is fraught with tests, failures, sorrow, doubt, and a heavy dose of seriousness. In the Christian Bible, Jesus says: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:14) Yet, many people must trust that this is so by a continuous investment of faith. In Psalms (30:5) it is said: “One may experience sorrow during the night, but joy arrives in the morning.” Again, many people awaken each morning with sadness or an aching in the heart that questions any notion of joy. When our spirit is tested by life, we are often bolstered by hope. Our faith practice then allows us to find hope in prayer or in surrendering our burdens to God or a spiritual teacher. Our spiritual faith, acting as a refuge of grace in our day, then becomes a stepping-stone to joy and peace.
Joy cannot be talked about without recognizing its opposites.
Thus, we say joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, smiles and tears, ecstasy and agony. It is human nature that the experience of one intensifies our awareness of the other. Many people find their greatest strength and courage out of joy’s opposite. They become thankful for the intensity of feelings associated with sorrow, sadness, flowing tears and the like, and they use them as stepping-stones to a new sense of hope and joy. It is okay to shed tears over the loss of someone or something. It is okay to feel sad or hurt. We often want to avoid those expressions or feelings that pierce our heart and make us tender. But what if we were to believe that such feelings are inseparable from life, and they help us to span the gulf separating us from others experiencing these very same feelings! Knowing this can make us more authentic, and we don’t have to falsely present an image of our self to the world. The poet Kahlil Gibran believes that “He who has not looked on Sorrow will never see Joy.” Joy, therefore, is a sanctuary from sorrow — it gives us hope and rekindles a flame of peace of mind. Reflect on those times in your life when joyous feelings turned to sadness or hurt, and when tears and sorrow turned to joy. Have you ever felt that sadness, hurt, tears, disappointment or sorrow were important stepping-stones to feeling a new sense of hope and joy?
Many people go out into the world each day with a dark cloud over their head — they feel burdened, depressed, anxious and stressed. Their whole day is one of struggle, routine, duties, obligations and ultimately resentment. Such people often show their displeasure with life through a serious face or brooding disposition. Yet, most would say that the desire for joy, peace, freedom, safety and comfort rank highest on their list of values. Joy cannot be measured by the size of the deed or activity. Its measurement may best come from small or spontaneous acts.
Joy is a powerfully simple stepping-stone to inner peace. It can measure the degree of our faith in goodness and hope. Without joy life can appear to be a tragedy; with joy and a sense of humor life may appear to be more like a tragic comedy. Always find a way to give to others the joy you feel inside.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Nothing I’ve ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children.” author=”Bill Cosby”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.” author=”Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” author=”C.S. Lewis”/]
WHERE CAN WE FIND JOY?
Men have pursued joy in every avenue imaginable. Some have successfully found it while others have not. Perhaps it would be easier to describe where joy cannot be found:
Not in Unbelief — Voltaire was an infidel of the most pronounced type. He wrote: “I wish I had never been born.”
Not in Pleasure — Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: “The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone.”
Not in Money — Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.”
Not in Position and Fame — Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.”
Not in Military Glory — Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent, before he said, “There are no more worlds to conquer.”
Where then is real joy found? — the answer is simple, in relationship with our Creator.
Research findings on Joy
There is now extensive research suggesting that religious people are happier (having joy) and less stressed. It is not clear, however, whether this is because of the social contact and support that result from religious activities, the greater likelihood of behaviors related to good health (such as less substance abuse), indirect forms of psychological and social activity such as optimism and volunteering, psychological factors such as “reason for being,” learned coping strategies that enhance one’s ability to deal with stress, or some combination of these and/or other factors.
Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center and the Pew Organization conclude that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being “very happy” (joyous) than the least religiously committed people. An analysis of over 200 social studies contends that “high religiousness predicts a lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts, and more reports of satisfaction with sex life and a sense of well-being,” and a review of 498 studies published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that a large majority of them showed a positive correlation between religious commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self-esteem and lower levels of hypertension, depression, and clinical delinquency. A meta-analysis of 34 recent studies published between 1990 and 2001 found that religiosity has a salutary relationship with psychological adjustment, being related to less psychological distress, more life satisfaction, and better self-actualization. Finally, a recent systematic review of 850 research papers on the topic concluded that “the majority of well-conducted studies found that higher levels of religious involvement are positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and higher morale) and with less depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, drug/alcohol use/abuse.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”QuoteParticipate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” author=”Joseph Campbell”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”QuoteOne of the sanest, surest, and most generous joys of life comes from being happy over the good fortune of others.” author=”Robert A. Heinlein”/]
NO JOY? MOVE YOUR CHAIR!
In 1937 architect Frank Lloyd Wright built a house for industrialist Hibbard Johnson. One rainy evening Johnson was entertaining distinguished guests for dinner when the roof began to leak. The water seeped through directly above Johnson himself, dripping steadily onto his bald head. Irate, he called Wright in Phoenix, Arizona. “Frank,” he said, “you built this beautiful house for me and we enjoy it very much. But … the roof leaks, and right now I am with some friends and distinguished guests and it is leaking right on top of my head.”
There was a pause on the line, and Frank Lloyd Wright reportedly replied: “Well, Hib, why don’t you move your chair?”
Just when we would like to have everything perfect in our lives, the roof springs a leak. Into even the most elaborately constructed and waterproof lives. Leaks happen. We have a choice, we can sit under the leak, or we can regain our joy by moving our chair….changing our perspective.
Now, some will point out that the reason they have no joy in their lives is because they don’t have a reason to be joyful. They have a lot of leaks in their roof.
Life seems like it’s fallen apart.
They aren’t satisfied with their job… if they even have one.
Their family has problems.
Their health isn’t good
Their car has gone in for repairs for the 10th time this year.
They just can’t see a “reason” for being joyful.
It’s hard to blame people for feeling this way. It’s hard to be joyful when life is going against you. It’s hard to be joyful when you’re
… struggling with troubles,
…or overwhelmed by pain,
…or unsure of your future.
But there’s a problem with THAT approach to life. If we wait till everything to turns out the way we want them to in our lives… if we’re not going to be joyful until all the leaks are patched in the roof of our lives… THEN we’re NEVER going to experience JOY. Or, if we do have joy, it will be a rare occurrence.
There is an alternative. You don’t have to wait until you’re Happy with your life/ to have Joy in your life. Deep spiritual joy in your life WILL always bring you happiness. But the pursuit of happiness will not always bring you joy. People have a hard time understanding the difference.
The word happiness actually derives from the English word “Happenstance” which means “something that HAPPENs because of a circumSTANCE” Thus – what we think of as happiness is actually an emotion that is caused by our circumstances. Worldly happiness is almost always reliant upon some situation or event to make us feel good. If something good happens… we’ll feel good, but if something bad happens… we won’t.
By contrast…..Spiritual Joy does not depend upon present situation. In fact, Spiritual joy often can exist despite our circumstances. If the roof is leaking and you can’t get someone to fix it right away… MOVE YOUR CHAIR. Change your perspective. Lay hold of some Joy and take control of your circumstances, rather than swinging with your emotions and continuing to look for happiness.
How can I you lay hold of Spiritual Joy?
- Improve your spiritual life. The more you are filled spiritually, the more joy you will receive.
- Encourage others in their sadness.
- Surround yourself with Joyous People.
- Always give thanks for what you have.
For the Virtuous man or woman, Joy is more than just an emotion. Joy is a Spiritual tool that we can use to overcome our circumstances, to empower us to rise above the pain and the sorrows of this life.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Since trifles make the sum of human things, And half our misery from our foibles springs; Since life’s best joys consist in peace and ease, And though but few can serve, yet all may please; On, let th’ ungentle spirit learn from hence, A small unkindness is a great offence.” author=”Hannah More”/]
More on Joy
Joy is an essential spiritual practice growing out of faith, grace, gratitude, hope, and love. It is the pure and simple delight in being alive. Joy is our elated response to feelings of happiness, experiences of pleasure, and awareness of abundance. It is also the deep satisfaction we know when we are able to serve others and be glad for their good fortune.
Invite joy into your life by staging celebrations. Host festivities to mark transitions and changes in your life. Toast moments of happiness you notice as you go through your day. Dance — jump for joy — as often as possible. Life is not meant to be endured; it is to be enjoyed.
We often talk about this spiritual practice in the same breath with its companions. We say joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, smiles and tears, the ecstasy and the agony. The experience of one intensifies our awareness of the other. Sorrow, for example, may be the price we pay for joy; when we have known great happiness in a relationship, we feel its loss more deeply. Or think of those times when you laugh so hard you cry.
Joy will usually be part of a set of symptoms presenting in your life. The best protocol is to be thankful for the intensity of these feelings. When you are experiencing sorrow and sadness, when the tears are flowing, remember they can be stepping stones to joy.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”It is only through adversity that we learn how we will handle ourselves in life. For if we collapse in the face of hardship, how will we ever bear the burden of joy.” author=”Dan Kidder”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Gratitude helps you to grow and expand; gratitude brings joy and laughter into your life and into the lives of all those around you.” author=”Eileen Caddy”/]
Let’s talk about joy. It is something that shines out of every pore in your being. It bubbles up out of your heart and your mind. Its energy is soft, light and clear. Joy is very transforming. You don’t need a lot of anything to be joyful. People in the poorest of circumstances can be filled with joy. One can choose to be joyful. It is a choice that can made every day.
Joy can also be a tool of guidance. If we can be led by what makes us joyful, we can begin doing more of the things that will bring us a fulfilled life. Just follow the joy.
Somehow we have been told in the past that we are not meant to enjoy life, and that it must be drudgery and hard work. I didn’t enjoy my life much in the past, but I began to transform misery into joy. I gave myself permission to laugh and enjoy my life. I began to ask myself, What do I really love to do?! and I started doing more of these things. Even if it was something very small, it was a beginning. Now, I often feel a tremendous amount of joy.
There is an exercise that I suggest that can transform whatever mood you find yourself in to one of joy. It is to list ten things right in the moment that make you joyful. They can be very simple things to list: that you found a seat on the bus, that you are going to your favorite place, that you are meeting your favorite friend, or that you have this moment alone; that you see a child playing, that you see a little dog and his little tail is wagging enthusiastically, or that you hear a beautiful song; that you are in love, or that there is something special happening, that it is a sunny day, that you have ten toes, and ten fingers; that a stranger standing across from you is wearing a fantastic color, or you are wearing your favorite color, or perhaps you remember a day at the beach and the sound of the ocean.
You can add anything you want to your joy list. Your list will change moment by moment. And you can keep it very private if you like. The point is to do it in the moment, and you can add an affirmation for yourself: I’m happy right now because that person is wearing blue today. or, I can be joyful because that silly little dog is wagging his little tail.
Look around you to find what can prompt you to be joyful. Do it. Make a choice to be joyful. Make a choice to embrace the moment, to enjoy the moment. Enjoy is a word that to me that means to join with joy. So if you en-joy someone or something, you are joining to them for that moment with joy. To enjoy life is to join life with joy. To enjoy a football game is to join the game and the fun with joy. To enjoy moment-by-moment the life that you are building is to join to each moment that you find yourself in with joy.
You can create joyful moments and carry these with you wherever you go. When you meet someone, let your joy really flow to her/him. Enjoy the meeting, enjoy the discussions, enjoy the food, and the good times. Joy is something to be shared and savored. When your pool of joy is filled up, empty it all out in another moment and for another encounter. Enjoy animals. Enjoy people. Enjoy your life moment by moment.
Add new things and new moments to your changing joy list.
If something happened that was very unpleasant, and you just don’t want to remember it, then your joy might be remembered when you left or as you were leaving. Or that it is now finished and you never have to go through it again. Joy, that you were strong enough to go through it. Or Joy that you are now free from that situation.
We can be incredible instruments of joy for someone else. Open to each person, and choose joy. Enhance the joy that is already there and let it flow out. Call it forth.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Joy is not found by searching for it, because you find it only when you realize you already have it.” author=”David Charles”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The joy of life is made up of minute fractions–the little, soon-forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look or heartfelt compliment.” author=”Samuel Taylor Coleridge”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”If you know someone who tries to drown their sorrows, you might tell them sorrows know how to swim.” author=”Anonymous”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us. Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing–sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death–can take that love away.” author=”Henri Nouwen”/]
Joy and the Brain
Every wonder how it is that some people can be so happy all the time or why it is that you feel as if it’s so challenging to lift your spirits even though there are some many great things about your life? Well, new research shows that our brain is wired to help us survive danger, but it is also wired for us to enjoy feelings of happiness and joy. Wellness research suggests that joy is not only fun, it quite literally is another type of survival strategy by keeping the body resilient with a stronger immune system.
In order to better understand how this works, we must start with the basics. The Human brain has two hemispheres and according to anthropologists, our brain architecture has changed very little since its initial evolutionary advancements.
The left lobe of our brain has survival circuits that assist with defensive, dominate, win-lose, fight or flight responses. For example, win-lose circuits generate negative emotions such as fear, sadness, anger, bitterness and loss, all necessary to avert danger, and all very unpleasant feelings. The right lobe of our brain’s survival circuits assist help generate feelings like creativity, joy, wonder, calmness and win-win sensations. It generates positive emotions that give us a sense of well-being and help make us happy.
We are in the middle of transitioning from being a survival-focused species to a quality-of-life-focused species, everything from running water and electricity to art and entertainment. It is easy to see where our technology and civilization have made it easy for us to survive. Quality of life is overtaking basic survival as the biggest concern for most people and the necessary human skill set is beginning to shift from mere survival to a healthy joy-filled life.
HOW DO WE SHIFT OUR BRAIN FROM STRESS TO JOY?
Most of us now have much less use for savage survival skills but the real question is how do we overcome left brain oriented thought patterns and strong primal survival circuits? Psychologist Roger Sperry, who was 1981s Nobel Prize Winner, conducted what are sometimes called the “split-brain” experiments.
In essence, he states that modern society favors left brain activity and behaviors over right brain responses due to basic societal measuring factors. Experiments show that most children rank highly creative (right brain) before entering school but because our educational systems place a higher value on left brain skills such as mathematics, logic and language for practical application than it does drawing and imagination, only ten percent of these same children rank highly creative by age 7. Most surprising, by the time we are adults, our high creativity remains in only 2 percent of the population.
It is right hemisphere activity that is exactly what is needed to help boost an overall sense of well-being and due to most of our educational conditioning of our brain it becomes harder and harder to so while easier and easier to constantly be analyzing, judge and think critically which is what spurs on many negative emotions such as worry, stress, fear and psychological discomfort.
A well-balanced brain is more apt to feelings of joy and contentment and becomes easier to avoid unwanted hyper-critical thoughts and the negative emotions that follow. Re-train your brain to for “joy”![do action=”vfquote” quote=”Joy is at its keenest when contrasted with sorrow, courage at its height when it follows fear, faith at its noblest when it grows from doubt.” author=”Alice H. Rice”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Joy is the happiness of love–love aware of its own inner happiness. Pleasure comes from without, and joy comes from within, and it is, therefore, within reach of everyone in the world.” author=”Bishop Fulton J. Sheen”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Joy is very infectious; therefore, be always full of joy.” author=”Mother Teresa”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Joy of life seems to arise from a sense of being where one belongs. … All the discontented people I know are trying sedulously to be something they are not, to do something they cannot do.” author=”David Grayson”/]
Somehow not only for Christmas
But all the long year through,
The joy that you give to others
Is the joy that comes back to you.
And the more you spend in blessing
The poor and lonely and sad,
The more of your heart’s possessing
Returns to make you glad.
Finding Joy when Times are Tough
Every person, no matter his circumstance, goes through rough times. You may experience the death of a loved one, financial stress, overwhelming children or problems in your marriage; finding joy through these trials helps you cope effectively and overcome them. Though it seems impossible to maintain a positive outlook, with patience and perseverance you will endure these difficult times and enjoy peace once again.
- Look at the positive aspects of your life. Your health, home and family members are just a few things to be thankful for. Simply waking up to a sunny day can put a fresh perspective on an otherwise dismal situation.
- Avoid whining, complaining and irritable attitudes, which only make the tough times worse.
- Think about what your trial is teaching you. For instance, if you’ve lost your job, you may be learning to manage your money. Every difficulty you endure will increase your ability to overcome other challenges in the future, and your self-esteem will improve when you learn that you can endure difficult times.
- Ask for assistance. Consult friends or family members for help or advice. Talking to people who love you may ease your burden and help you gain a new perspective.
- Serve other people. Working hard will help you forget your own troubles for a while. Helping others increases your level of happiness, decreases stress, makes you feel needed and generous, and gives your life a sense of purpose. You may also realize how lucky you are.
- Realize that your trial won’t last forever. The unemployed eventually find jobs, the grief after a loved one has passed lessens over time and rebellious children eventually find their way.
- Laugh often. Laughter relaxes your body, eases fear and anxiety, relieves stress and pain, and benefits your heart and immune system.
DON’T LET YOUR EGO STEAL YOUR JOY
Your ego wants stuff. It wants to do things, watch movies, buy clothes, go places, et cetera. And when it gets what it wants, it is not long before it wants new stuff. It uses the possessions and experiences that it ‘achieves’ for its favorite activity — comparison. Once it has stuff to compare, it does exactly that. You compare yourself with other people. Almost like you are measuring your worth against that of your friends.
The ways you do this is endless. You could compare favorably…
Your kid plays for the first team. His kid doesn’t.
You drive a Lexus. She drives a Toyota.
Your house is paid off. His house not.
Or you could compare less well…
His wife is really good looking. Your wife is aging faster than you hoped she would.
She managed to stop smoking. You are still stuck with the nasty habit.
He plays golf off a single figure handicap. You are still stuck on a 22.
What is the inevitable result of all this? Discontent. Even once you manage to achieve or obtain something that makes you compare favorably with others, the happiness doesn’t last. Soon, the false self wants some more. Soon it finds something else that would make it compare better to others. What you achieve or obtain in the physical realm never brings true peace or true joy. It is like you are not yet all you can be… according to the ego. Which, of course is a lie. You think you need to either achieve or obtain something that will, finally, make you all you can be. Be warned. What you obtain or achieve will also fail to turn you into all you can be. What you need is a shift of consciousness.
Some say that boys never grow up… Their toys just get more expensive. This points to the truth that we are dealing with here. A grown man can feel exactly the same way about his possessions that a two-year old feels about his bike. A Ferrari or a $100 bike could have the same effect on an ego when it is lost. The monetary value does not correlate to the sense of loss the person suffers. The prized possession that is at stake is part of this person’s ego. His identity is being threatened.
Have you ever seen a wealthy, yet grown-up and supposedly mature person completely lose self-control over damage to a possession? As long as your identity is caught up in the things of your life, you will suffer greatly when those things get damaged or lost. It feels like you yourself are being threatened, damaged or destroyed.
If you get your sense of identity, worth and happiness from earthly possessions, stuff that will be destroyed by rust, stolen or left behind, you will completely miss true joy. However, when you humble yourself and seek happiness from caring for others, true joy will come to your door and “ego’ the thief will be locked away.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Eat with the rich, but go play with the poor, who are capable of joy.” author=”Logan Pearsall Smith”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Every man rejoices twice when he has a partner in his joy. He who shares tears with us wipes them away. He divides them in two, and he who laughs with us makes the joy double.” author=”Bishop Fulton J. Sheen”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within reach, is joy. There is a radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see, and to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look.” author=”Fra Giovanni”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth and have it found out by accident.” author=”Charles Lamb”/]
SPREADING JOY AT CHRISTMAS
We are called to spread “joy”, especially this time of year! Spreading joy is really hard though when there are so many people around us who are suffering from the effects of clinical Christmas stress and depression. That’s right….at a time of year when we should be most ‘joyous”, many people find this the most depressing time of year. Much of this stress and depression is self-imposed and rooted in:
- Absence of a beloved family member that creates feelings of loneliness and regret.
- Family conflicts that have been “brewing” all year long are forced to a head with family gatherings around the holidays.
- The pressure of gift buying and expectations with tight budgets and poor economic times.
- Physical exhaustion brought on by the holiday shopping, schedule changes, kids out of school, and social obligations to friends or work.
- Loneliness for the elderly, isolated, unmarried, and social outcasts. Those who have no family and few friends.
- Seasonal emotional disorder brought on by winter and the lack of daylight.
Pretty depressing huh? So how can we help?
First of all, we need to be extremely sensitive to these causes of stress and depression in ourselves and others. Recognize the symptoms of these causes for a lack of joy and see if we can directly address the pain. Empathy. Put your entire focus outside of yourself and into loving and serving others who are suffering. Ease their pain, grow joy in the joyless and I just bet that what you sow you will also reap.
A great quote by W. Bion Adkins about why it’s so hard for men to be joyous. Think about it the next time you walk through a crowd. Look at people’s faces.
So in the world of adult men we find the joy of life disproportionate to condition and faculty. In the faces of the men we meet on the streets we see many scars and dark lines of storm and trouble; only seldom do the faces we meet there wear the rainbow.
Men are without joy because they have violated the laws of nature, they have subordinated their manly powers, reason and conscious to their animal instincts; they have lived by wrong theories and wrong methods, and for unmanly ends, and thus have exhausted the joy of life’s banquet.
A man can have deep and continuous joy only if his life is continuously rational and progressively manly. He must put away childish things and live for what is true and right, for love, service of others and immortal virtue.
THANKS BRINGS JOY
In this season of gift giving we need to focus on doing a better job of being thankful for the gifts that we are given. Over overabundance often causes ingratitude. We don’t do it intentionally, but never the less, the effects are the same. We receive a gift and then smugly issue an obligatory “thanks”, or even worse, say nothing at all.
Philosophers as far back as the ancient Greeks cited gratitude as an indispensable human virtue, but social scientists are just beginning to study how it develops and the effects it can have on people. Research suggests that maintaining an attitude of gratitude can improve psychological, emotional, and physical well-being. Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections, and more happiness than those who do not. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy, or become alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, and have greater resistance to viral infections than people who aren’t very grateful.
Money will buy a bed but not sleep; books but not brains; food but not appetite; finery but not beauty; a house but not a home; medicine but not health; luxuries but not culture; amusements but not happiness; religion but not salvation; a passport to everywhere but heaven”. Man, indeed, does not live by bread alone! One who shuts his doors to sublime pastures of this wide and vast world forfeits the possibility of experiencing that unalloyed virtue of true joy. This supreme virtue is termed rightly also as ‘happiness’ , which is not a destination one arrives at but, more so, a means of travelling. This travel guides the aspirant to those innumerable and rewarding islets in what is otherwise a vast, dreary ocean of drab routine and rat race!
WE CAN LEARN A LOT FROM SCROOGE
Flip through a couple channels on the television this weekend and I am sure you will find a movie or two about the story by Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Ebenezer Scrooge hated Christmas, hated fun and hated people. The three spirits who visited him on Christmas Eve taught him some valuable lessons, and Scrooge learned to appreciate everything about the holiday season. But learning to love Christmas wasn’t the only thing Scrooge learned. There’s another very simple lesson that we easily forget. Scrooge learned that you can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have people you love in your life – none of it matters. Bob Cratchet and his family showed us that you can have absolutely nothing at Christmas time and still have joy in your lives. That was ultimately what changed Scrooge’s mind about Christmas. Scrooge learned to pinch pennies, work hard and save his money. But even though he had built tremendous wealth…he was alone. From the musical Scrooge, here is the song sung by Scrooge after his redemption:
“I’ll begin again, I will build my life, I will live to see that I’ve fulfilled my life. I’ll begin today, throw away the past, and the future I build will be something that will last. I will start anew, I will make amends, and I’ll make quite certain that the story ends on a note of hope, on a bold Amen. I’ll thank the Lord for the moment when I was able to begin again. I will take the time I have left to live, and I’ll give it all that I have left to give. I will spend my days for my fellow men, and I’ll live in praise of the moment when I was able to begin again.”
Let’s all begin again and make Christmas a time for joyously loving friends, family, and fellow man.
WHO IS HAPPY?
By Dennis Prager
After 25 years of lecturing on happiness, writing a book on the subject (Happiness Is a Serious Problem), and devoting an hour of my radio show every week for the last 13 years to happiness, here are some conclusions about who is happy.
People who control themselves.
Happiness is dependent on self-discipline. We are the biggest obstacles to our own happiness. It is much easier to do battle with society and with others than to fight our own nature.
People who are given little and earn what they have.
That is why lottery winners are rarely happier than those who have far less money — that they have earned; and often less happy after their win than before it.
So, too, those who get used to receiving unearned material benefits (such as government entitlements) are likely to be unhappier than they were before receiving those benefits — and much less happy than those who have earned whatever they have. That is why the entrepreneur who has worked day and night for years is usually happier than the person who inherited vast wealth.
People who do not see themselves or their group as victims.
Virtually every person can legitimately see himself as a victim — of an unloving upbringing; of bullies in school; of a loveless, or just plain bad, marriage; of financial problems; of membership in a victim group; of health problems; and of so much else. But however valid the fact of one’s victimhood, perceiving oneself primarily as victim is the road to misery.
If the primary conclusion you have reached after years of therapy is that you are a victim, you really are a victim — of lousy therapy.
The post-60s labeling of virtually everyone except WASP males (blacks, women, and Hispanics, etc.) as victims has exponentially increased unhappiness in America.
People who rarely complain.
Complaining not only ruins everybody else’s day, it ruins the complainer’s day, too. The more we complain, the more unhappy we get. Want to raise children who will be happy adults? Teach them not to whine.
People who have close friends.
Close friends not only prolong people’s lives, but on a day-to-day basis they contribute more to most adults’ happiness than even their children do. From their teenage years on, children are considerably more capable of causing parents unhappiness than bringing them happiness. That is one reason parents who rely on their children for happiness make both their children and themselves miserable.
People who are in a good marriage.
A good marriage — having a real partner in life — is so contributive to happiness that it is almost enough. Almost.
People who act happy.
A fundamental rule of life is that the deed shapes feelings more than feelings shape deeds. We feel what we act. Act loving — you’ll feel loving. Act happy — you’ll feel happy, or at least much happier than if you don’t act happy. The notion that acting happy when we don’t feel happy is “inauthentic” is foolish.
People who aren’t envious.
No matter how little or how much one has, envy destroys happiness. We naturally envy those who have more money or a nicer home, and those we think have better kids, better spouses, or better jobs. But the fact is that we almost never know the pain and suffering of anyone we envy. As a wise woman said to me when I was in high school, “The only happy people I know are people I don’t know well.” The next time you envy another person’s life, just remember that you don’t know anything about their inner demons, their childhood, their battles with life. Even friends often know little about their friends’ marital problems. The unhappy think that those who walk around with a happy disposition have had less pain than they. They’re almost always wrong.
People who don’t have high self-esteem.
Low self-esteem doesn’t contribute to happiness, and some self-esteem can add to one’s happiness. But high self-esteem contributes to unhappiness. People with high self-esteem rarely have close friends. First, almost no one is good enough for them. Second, such people are usually insufferable, and while they attract sycophants, they repel friends. Self-respect, not self-esteem, should be the goal.
People who have few expectations.
The more we expect, the less happy we will be — because the more we expect, the less grateful we are for what we receive. And ingratitude is the mother of unhappiness.
People who are grateful.