Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Power of Joy

"So I commend the enjoyment of life, For there is nothing better for a person under the sun to eat and drink and be glad"
Ecclesiastes 8:15

     It is a common saying that we are happy not when we get what we want but when we want what we have. To find joy in this moment when perhaps your house needs painting or you feel a bit frumpy is an incredible act of courage and strength. Our society tells us to always strive for more and there is nothing wrong with stuff. But why do you want stuff? Do you want that new smart phone because you think it will make you happy? It won't. Now certainly there may be a short lived thrill from the acquiring of an object, but the only possibility for lasting joy is to just accept your life as it is, warts and all. Just as desire can be a path to suffering, letting go of certain desires can be the path to joy. Joy is not happiness, which is situational, but rather joy is a clear eyed present moment view of your life with an acceptance of all the parts of it. To accept that you will never be perfect can unleash torrents of joy. To find beauty in your physical flaws and find compassion for your emotional shortcomings will bring you joy. It is acceptance and not plastic surgery, presence and not presents that we need to obtain this deep abiding joy. But why is it so hard to be happy? Why does scripture say "the joy of the Lord is your strength?" Because joy is an act of courage, an act of a whole hearted person.

     We have more stuff in our culture than we need and yet we are a nation of unhappy victims and polarized blamers. Why? Well, there is a power in being a victim. When you are unhappy many times people will rush to rectify that unhappiness. When you are bemoaning your victimhood people will sympathize and perhaps pat your back or hug you. But the attention that misery brings for you is short lived and in the end you end up alone and contracted into fear. no one can stand to be around a constantly miserable person. And not only that but like attracts like, so if you are using misery for attention you will end up surrounded by miserable people. No one intentionally rejects joy, but sometimes people do choose misery for the short term relief it provides as others sympathize. But beware, this path is made of quicksand that slowly sucks you in until the capacity for joy is gone.

     On the other hand sometimes choosing joy and telling others you are happy or just simply letting them know you are ok in the short term can leave you temporarily alone as people see you are ok. When my husband gets home from work he always asks how my day was. If I choose the misery answer I will have his attention for awhile but it tapers of as he grows tired of whine. If I choose joy and say my day was great often he will wander off to tend to his own needs and I am temporarily alone. But in the long run joy always bring connection and misery always brings loneliness.
But here's the crux of the matter, Joy is not situational. A joyful person finds light wherever they are and a miserable person is not changed by a magical environment. It always astounded me how many long faces I saw in Disneyworld! Joy is not easy but it is a nonnegotiable part of our spiritual growth. We have to deliberately stop coveting and comparing, stop looking at the dark side of our lives and intentionally grow in gratitude and joy will bloom. You do not grow muscles without working out, you do not grow joyful without some work. you must choose joy, but you must choose it over and over and over. And perhaps after a long time of choosing joy it will become your default. This is a practice worth investing in, for truly there is nothing better under the sun than to simply enjoy our lives.

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